Updated: Nov 26, 2019
You know how listening to a piece of music can change your mood? Sometimes you need a jolt out of your doldrums and jumping around your desk or head-bopping to a dance beat is just the pick-me-up you needed. Or maybe you need something more laid-back to tone it down.
On a fast-acting surface level, a musical mix can be just the fix!
Hey, that rhymes. Read that aloud or just hear it in your head – it made you feel a teensy bit better, admit it, now. And though that’s a pretty simplistic example, it’s one of the ways that on another level – a more reflective level – a good poem can also cure what ails you. The lyrics to that mood-changing song might, in fact, hold their own kind of power to heal. As John Milton wrote in 1671: “apt words have power to swage / The tumors of a troubled mind / And are as balm to festered wounds.”
It’s no surprise that poetry is on the rise once more, as millennials seek out poetry in the midst of the increasingly hectic gig economy. Across the Pond, where poetry sales hit an all-time high last year, they’re taking the notion seriously. The Poetry Pharmacy is a British concept that led to a book and lately, an actual place.
British author William Sieghart engaged in the practice at literary festivals. “During 10-minute slots,” he tells The Times of London, “I would prescribe verses for spiritual afflictions to ‘patients.’ Last year, I turned the idea into a book. Whatever shift you’re looking to make in your outlook or behavior, the right verse can give you the words of support and encouragement you need.” His book is an anthology of collected works.
British poet Deborah Alma spent years taking her own work on the road in a vintage ambulance as the “Emergency Poet.” This year she parked it in the arts hub of Bishop’s Castle, where she’s converted an ironmonger’s shop into an actual brick-and-mortar Poetry Pharmacy, divided into sections by specific ailments to let you browse and find a literary cure for your mood – love, aging, grief, hope, anger, even fear.
"It kind of started out at a kitchen table where I would give a friend who had a broken heart or something some poetry to soothe them,” Alma says. "I worked with people with dementia which also drove the idea because I watched how poetry can affect a change in mood.”
Here are some of her prescriptions:
For a broken heart: Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love”
For letting go: Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”
She’s even got one for internet addiction: “The Door” by Miroslav Holub
Has any of this piqued your interest in poetry? Stop in and peruse our poetry collection! And if you have some sure-fire poetry cure-alls to share, post them in the comments below.