Poetry: A Natural Lifesaver

Here’s the second installment of Sasha A. Palmer’s guest post series. Read the first on the poet’s brain here.

Sasha A. Palmer

Sasha A. Palmer

Sasha A. Palmer (aka Happy) is a regular around these parts, and she writes for a living and pleasure. She shares quick writing links every Thursday at www.sashaapalmer.com and blogs at www.thehappyamateur.com.

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“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
–Lord Byron

“We of the craft” can relate. In our ideal universe, poetry is everybody’s “space bar”– the most popular key on a keyboard. Smooth and jamming. In reality, it is more of a “Scroll Lock” – something weird most people choose to avoid. The techie world of today hasn’t discovered the mind boosting place Byron used to frequent.

How come?

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Recreating_Poetry_Revise_PoemsRe-create Your Poetry!

Revision doesn’t have to be a chore–something that should be done after the excitement of composing the first draft. Rather, it’s an extension of the creation process!

In the 48-minute tutorial video Re-creating Poetry: How to Revise Poems, poets will be inspired with several ways to re-create their poems with the help of seven revision filters that they can turn to again and again.

Click to continue.

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Let’s be fair. It’s not just a regular guy–it’s George Gordon–we’re talking about. No wonder he was ahead of his time. Besides, he was probably no stranger to other–popular during the Romantic era– ways of mind stimulation. In fact, his mind might have been overcrowded and in need of emptying due to laudanum – an alcoholic dilute solution of opium.

Byron makes a reference to it in “Don Juan” in 1823:

” . . . for Cupid’s cup
With the first draught intoxicates apace,
A quintessential laudanum or ‘black drop’,
Which makes one drunk at once . . .”

Sounds like a firsthand account, doesn’t it?

Routes to happiness

Whether or not opium’s partially responsible for Lord Byron’s poetic works, let the connection between drugs and creativity remain an academic issue. Why add yet another reason to the long list of reasons we use to justify medicating ourselves? Roughly one in every ten Americans has taken some sort of antidepressant. This is a lot of supposedly happier people.

Do all those who reach for the “happy pill” really need it?

Dr. Joseph Glenmullen of Harvard Medical School wrote that although “judicious use of medication can be invaluable, even life-saving…most people can overcome the obstacles to leading satisfying lives through the help of more natural alternatives that treat our whole selves – psychological, physical, intellectual, and emotional.”

Poetry is one of those proven natural alternatives.

In April of 2014, on this very blog, Robert led us on a quest to shine some light on the value of poetry. Throughout the responses poetry sparkled like a multifaceted gem. One theme, however, was dominant – the therapeutic value of poetic expression.

PA folk echoed each other, calling poetry a “shrink”, “lifeline” and “lifesaver.”

Some of the responses were particularly personal. “I, myself, am Bi-Polar,” read one, “and poetry has more than once saved my life (literally).”

Poets are courageous. They accept–to quote Janet Martin of “Another Porch”–“the invitation to brave private fears.” They open up their hearts and share their most hidden thoughts. It’s a scary process. But it’s rewarding.

The benefits of poetry

Although the benefits of expressive writing have been a subject of scientific research, the field is still relatively new. James W. Pennebaker, the pioneer of Writing Therapy, is just 65 years old. The scope for work is vast, with new branches of knowledge bound to emerge.

Poetry Facilitation is one of such new and rapidly developing branches. A groundbreaking technique employing “the power of poetry to engage Alzheimer’s patients” is nothing short of a miracle. Even to its designer, Molly Middleton Meyer.

“Even for a word person,” she says, “it is hard for me to explain the wonder of poetry facilitation, and its therapeutic benefits.”

Molly–poet, writer, facilitator, and founder of Mind’s Eye Poetry–has channeled her grief into a mission. Having lost both parents to Alzheimer’s, she is Rewriting dementia.™ She talks to people suffering from the disease – people who are often considered “gone.” Poetry’s both the starter and stunning outcome of her conversations with “poet/patients.”

Here’s one of the hundreds of poems Molly’s helped facilitate:

If Happiness Were a Sound…

It would be loud like a beating heart,
the sound of children laughing,
church bells ringing, a choir singing,
the sound of clear blue days
when the sky sings love.

Sam, Peggy, Judy, John, Jeannine, Sallye, Bettie, Mary W., Maureen, Mary A., Tom, & Helen
Autumn Leaves assisted living memory care community, Carrollton, TX
©Mind’s Eye Poetry, 2014. All rights reserved. Quoted by permission of Mind’s Eye Poetry.

Poetry is not an elite club. Molly’s work proves that. Poetry is a place open to everyone. It boosts your mind, memory, and imagination. It soothes and heals. It makes you feel alive.

Come on over.

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Find more poetic posts here:

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16 thoughts on “Poetry: A Natural Lifesaver

  1. PKP

    Sasha .. thank you so much for this wonderful piece – I too had not heard of the work of Molly Meyer. Makes perfect sense to me , as a psychoanalyst I have always felt that poetry is an “alternate” language form which more closely approximates the multi-layered way that the mind perceives experience. I am very interested in Meyer’s work and am eager to read more. Thanks again 🙂

      1. PKP

        Awww lovely of you to say so Sasha – I enjoyed both pieces very much and yes delighted to be introduced to this field of study. Apologies for not being here sooner – I am dealing with some very intense “dry-eye” which has me needing to severely limit my computer time until resolved.

  2. ReathaThomasOakley

    Sasha, thank you for this post, your beautiful words, and Molly’s work. On PA, as a way of working through my grief, I often write about my mother who died three years ago after many long and cruel Alzheimer’s years, the first few spent angry with me. It was she who gave me my love of poetry and language, and toward the end, when her anger seemed to dissipate, she might not be certain who I was but I could hold her hands, start a poem she’d learned as a child that she’d taught me, and we’d finish it together. At her funeral, I probably offended some of her ultra conservative religious friends by reciting Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Swing, her favorite poem, and saying she was finally over the garden wall.

    1. Sasha A. Palmer

      Reatha, I’m so sorry for your loss, and hope in time the pain will subside. Poetry will continue to help you heal. Reading poems about your mother is like turning the pages of a family photo album. Thank you for creating and sharing those snapshots of memories.

      Your comment-story is achingly sad and beautiful. It’s a tough read, but it made me feel inspired and hopeful. As did The Swing. So happy you found the strength to recite this poem. A perfect farewell.

      Thank you again.

  3. pipersfancy

    Although I’ve not heard of Molly Meyer (I shall have to look her up), I can speak of similar experiences. As a speech-language pathologist, I began my career 25 years ago working in long-term care. Eventually, I became lead therapist on a locked unit for dementia patients. One of my roles was to create opportunities for meaningful interactions between patients and their loved ones. I often used photos of beautiful works of art, paired with cloze sentences (i.e. starter sentences with the last word/s left off.) The results were always unexpected, always moving, and often very poetic. I wish I had kept a journal of the wonderful sentences that would come from Alzheimer’s patients – often heartfelt messages to their loved ones.

    I had a favourite coffee table book at the time, a selection of the paintings of Leonardo De Vinci. Once of my patients, Martha, exclaimed upon seeing a photo of angles, “Look! There’s my angel! That’s the one who visits me.” She went on to tell her astounded daughter that she had been meaning to mention this (the angel visits) but could never remember to tell her daughter when she was visiting the nursing home. Her daughter was very comforted by the thought that her mother felt she was being held close to God throughout the progression of this terrible disease.

    I came to believe that, regardless of how impaired a patient presented on a typical daily basis, there was always a spark inside of them that just needed the right conditions in place in order to reconnect with their human nature and shine, even if only briefly.

    Anyways, interesting article you’ve shared with us! Warmest regards,
    Christina

    1. Sasha A. Palmer

      Christina, thank you so much for sharing.

      Actually, I was hoping that this post will help spread the word about Molly’s mission.

      I think Molly’s work will strike a chord with you. You might find a lot of similarities between poetry facilitation and what you did when working with Alzheimer’s patients. The poems she helped facilitate are beautiful. You’ll find some of them on her site: http://www.mindseyepoetry.com/

      Thanks again.

      1. mindseyepoetry

        Thank you for the wonderful article, Sasha. As you know, advocating for quality, life-enrighing programs for those living with dementia is my passion. When people learn what is possible, the the status quo will change. I’m appreciative that you are helping to spread awareness.

  4. JanetRuth

    standing ovation. I did not know that Byron first wrote those words we echo. “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”
    –Lord Byron
    Well done Sasha, and ‘thank-you’:)

    planning to link to this post today.

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