Writing Cures: An Introductory Handbook of Writing in Counselling and Psychotherapy

By Gillie Bolton; Stephanie Howlett et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 10

'Every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome': the therapeutic role of poetry writing

Gillie Bolton and John Latham

The blood jet is poetry.

(Plath 1981)

Take that old, material utensil, language, found all about you, blank with familiarity, smeared with daily use, and make it into something that means more than it says. What poetry is made of is so old, so familiar, that it's easy to forget that it's not just the words, but polyrhythmic sounds, speech in its first endeavours (every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome), prismatic meanings lit by each other's light, stained by each other's shadows.

(Rich 1995:84)

Poems…profoundly alter the man or woman who wrote them

(Abse 1998:362)


Introduction

Poetry is an exploration of the most vital and intimate experiences, thoughts, feelings, ideas: distilled, pared to communicating succinctness and made music to the ear by lyricism. Poetry and healing have gone hand in hand since Apollo became the god of both: 'The use of and familiarity with the power of imagery and metaphor has always linked poets and artists to healers' (Flint 2002:vi).

In this chapter, Gillie Bolton explores the particular healing power of poetry writing, and the role of image and metaphor. John Latham offers a personal account of the ways he is able to make contact with what he needs to explore psychotherapeutically through poetry writing; he discusses the therapeutic insight and support thus gained concerning traumatic crises in his life, such as the death of his son, and alcoholism.

'Poems profoundly alter the man or woman who wrote them' because poetry can only be written from the otherwise most difficult to reach parts of oneself and one's world, in a process similar to the most effective therapy or analysis, or to the therapeutic use of the other arts (Flint 2002). Dannie Abse is poet, poetry tutor and medical practitioner: a combination with powerful precedence (Jones 1997).

-106-

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