It was National Poetry Day in the UK last Thursday and a number of events took place all over the country and on the radio (not so much on TV). One topic of debate – a topic which comes up every year or so – is whether poetry can really make a difference. Except it’s usually couched in much more dramatic terms: can poetry save lives?
The problem with such a question is, of course, that very little else can save lives either: how many computer games, business ventures, objects in our house, TV programs or anything else fall into the heroic, life-saving category?
If we talk metaphorically, however, there are many people who can bear witness to the healing power of poetry, of the right words in the correct order which came at just the perfect time. Let me just mention three of these below.
There is a TEDx talk by Andrew Jack on how poetry has made him the person he is today.
There is the memoir of hustler Amber Dawn, entitled How Poetry Saved My Life, which started out as a series of poems written by Amber as part of a community outreach program for at-risk girls.
Finally, there is the inspirational blog of Anthony Wilson, who started copying out poems which really spoke to him in his notebook when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. At a time when he felt that poetry, beauty and meaning was deserting him, when the physical act of writing out the poems was often painful, he nevertheless persevered. His blog and subsequent book that came out of that are:
an attempt to say thank you, ultimately to poetry for not deserting me but also to the poets who wrote the poems, and the people -teachers, friends, colleagues, poets, anthologists- who have influenced my reading, and therefore my life, so richly.
For me personally, both reading and writing poetry have been the best ways to cope with failures, depression, heartache and general disillusionment. I do turn to poetry in times of joy and contentment, too, but it’s when I am down or angry that I need poetry most.
What about you? Do you believe in the life-enhancing powers of poetry? Tell us, if you feel you like to share, about how poetry has helped you, perhaps even tell us which poem or line has meant a lot to you.