Poetry as Self-care
In case you are new or haven't heard, every Sunday, we have the pleasure and honor of being blessed with words from Annie Bagnall, who heads much of Move Me Poetry alongside me (JD Greyson). She shares various ideas, musings, or wisdom that center around self-care.
As someone who used to run myself into the ground, I've come to learn the importance and necessity for self-care. Each week, I pour myself a cup of coffee (my favorite drink) and cozy up to Annie's words.
This week, I've selected part of her post to share with all of you here.
Recently in our lovely community, we, as poets, have been collaborating to create beauty. We have shared sadness and joy. We have supported others through crisis and sadness and pain and uncertainty and when they simply need to hear that they are loved and that someone truly cares.
We have written anthems of love and support for the plight of the people in the Ukraine. We have toiled to create Haiku that in very few words, speak of oceans of sadness and the endless reaches of beauty and joy.
We have been learning new skills and meeting new friends. We have been sharing our love of poetry and humanity, in ways that inspire and uplift. Every day we reach out to people who need a reminder of their strength, their beauty and the wonderful souls that they share with us each day and each night.
And in the background, many of us are coming to the party with a plethora of untold stories, the depths of which have created an internal ache, an unrelenting need, not just to write, but also a need to somehow, set our thoughts free. To release them into the terrifying atmosphere of cyberspace, empty space, judgmental space, and even, hostile space (AKA Social Media). As if setting them free, might also set us free.
Many people dream of this, but are too afraid or too lacking in self confidence. They have pages of words written over years about everything from heartbreak, to grief, to trauma in all its many forms, to loneliness, to happiness, to wonder, to pain, to flowers, and to rain.
Little by little, in a safe space, something starts to shift. Something that once whispered to us, starts to speak, and then to shout, and then to sing. Something starts to feel right about embracing our true selves, about setting our souls free, about flying out of the darkness, into the light, on the wings of our poetry.
So here we are now, a fledgling community, learning from each other in so many different ways. Finally beginning to be true to ourselves. Beginning to wear our poetic souls like a soldier wears a medal, or to let our pride soar the way a parent’s heart soars with pride for their child. So many journeys are hard earned and not always understood, yet for each one of us who achieves something for which we strive, this is still, a badge of honour.
You may be wondering where on earth I am going with this (fair call — I have a tendency to ramble!).
So where I am going is right here: For poets, poetry is not something we read or write just ‘for fun’, or to feel more exalted amongst the ‘literary crowd’. It is a part of us, integral to who we are. It breathes life into our hearts and our souls. It is the music of our very existence, the moon and the stars in our skies, raindrops and sunshine, snowdrifts and wind, heartbreak and joy, truth and lies, love and loss and endless fields of possibilities.
How ironic is it that a community of people (many of whom suffer from trauma, work with trauma, understand the dark depths of trauma), process some of what that means to them, by creating a thing of beauty? No matter how light or dark our work is, there is always beauty in our creations. We create through the entire spectrum of emotions, the seasons, the sun and the moon, the sky and the clouds, the rain and wind, life and death, ghosts and memories, pain and suffering, joy and loss. We challenge and we question. We are present in our work as we create it.
But make no mistake, the poetry is within us, we are not within our poetry. We are the conduit. The estuary. The rivers that lead to the sea, where all that we create, is released, joyously free, to flow wherever it wishes to be.
So, what is this strange beast of which I speak? This ‘poetry’ beast?
This, my dear friends, this is our therapy. This is our self-care.
Here is where we search deep within ourselves and find the things of beauty, the painful things, the silly things, the sad things, the unspoken things, the joyous things, the things that lift us up, the things that hold us back, keep us down, prevent us, from flying free.
So this week, where I am going with this, is that we have within our hands, the most powerful self care tool ever created in any place, in any time, in any space, in any situation. We have our metaphorical quills, our pens, our ink. We draw our poetry from our very veins. We do not need any other tools or resources. We have what we need, deep within ourselves, to put our metaphorical ink to our metaphorical parchment, and to bleed our words into eternity.
Poet and physician Rafel Campo, M.D., writes “Reading or writing poetry creates a space for empathy, for seeing another person, for bearing witness to our common humanity” and “Empathy is essential for our survival . . . without empathy, how would we heal?” He says in a talk for TEDxCambridge. “When we hear rhythmic language and recite poetry, our bodies translate crude sensory data into nuanced knowing . . . feeling becomes meaning.”
The National Association for Poetry Therapy writes: “The benefits of poetry therapy include increased self and interpersonal awareness, increased sense of validation in voicing one’s truth, and an enhanced capacity to capture and reframe significant life stories.”
As we have discussed in previous weeks, it is easy to not pay attention to the signs that we need to be kinder to and/or give priority to ourselves. We have lives that are filled with so many things that are so ‘much more important than looking after ourselves’. We have jobs, partners, children, parents, friends, pets, neighbours, dishes, washing, cleaning, plants, trees, birds, bees (insert relevant things more important than us right here)….
I fully acknowledge that we have many demands that we have pay attention to and/or in some way take care of, if not for ourselves, perhaps for others. However, as I have written before, how well can we do this if we are depleted, if we are defeated?
There is a poetry collection called "Through The Soil In my Skin” by Astrid. In her poem “11:11”, Astrid talks about being a poet. She is writing from her perspective as a woman, but her message is applicable no matter if you are male, female, non binary, or however you identify in your life:
“Today I choose myself. I will be a healed woman
who smiles in the mirror as a reminder.
My hips will dance to a rhythm of hope. Trust my body
is safe. Believe it is beautiful like a dove released from it’s cage.
I will climb out of bed in the mornings
I am crumbling. Thank myself for a new day.
Celebrate the three steps forward after two steps back,
because there is one step still worth appreciating.
There is a magenta sunset waiting, and this is a sign
to see it. Progress is laughter after the insult, a deep breath
before a meltdown, the fight during a flight response.
I’m a shooting star fluorescent in the sky and when I crash
I will land on Venus, rising beyond Aphrodite dreams.
the indigo child rebirthed from the sea,
flying on the back of a swan’s wings. I will close my eyes.
Feel my hair blowing in the wind.
Cry rivers to cleanse my spirit. The rose within will rise
From ashes to ashes, dust to dust through the soil in my skin
for Earth to see. The oracle in my sun, the gaze in my moon.
from this day forward, I promise to have and hold myself whole.”
This poem is essentially about choosing ourselves.
As poets, we write for a reason and sometimes, we do not process what that reason is. But it is there, buried deeply in our words. Whether we intend to do so or not, we are practising self-care when we write. So our challenge is to become more deliberate in our intentions. When we do not feel like facing the world, when things feel too much for us to deal with, we must consciously decide to write. We must resist that urge to do whatever we individually do, to hide from the thing that ails us. Bring that thing into the light, even if it is just for us at that moment. Write it happy or sad or angry or lost. Write it in whatever way you need to write it, to set it free.
Self-care must be a practice. We must be consistent. Do we feel better when we we write? If no, then skip this whole proposal. If yes, then lock it in. Write about your pain, your fears, the things you love, the things you have lost, the things you dare to wish for, the unspoken things, the beautiful things, the weather, the world, the day, the night, your hopes, your dreams, your desires, your dislikes….JUST WRITE! You do not need to share what you write, but if you feel you have a safe space to do so, set that winged creature free!
Whatever your daily obligations are, or your weekly obligations, make a time each day or each week to sit and ruminate on what you want to release. If you can metaphorically send the things that are whispering in your heart or your head or in your very soul, on a journey from the deep, dark places where you have locked them away, into the safe light of a supportive space, where people who speak your language will understand, and as a result you may feel lighter and perhaps a little unburdened by the act…..DO IT! Do it regularly.
Don’t do it hoping for anything but that you have set that thing free. That you have set yourself free. That it is no longer a burden but a beautiful bird or butterfly, that is now flying in open space and enjoying the sunshine and the wind beneath their wings, just as you should be, just as you will be.
Self-care is not reactionary; it must be a regular and deliberate practice. So, if you are a poet, how cool is it that you have a ready-made self-care regime that all you have to do to get started is make a commitment…even once a week…a commitment to set the things that are hiding inside of you free, to set yourself free? The hardest part of doing this is making the time to do so, and then showing up for yourself. Yes, you read that correctly, SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF!
Another bonus for poets, is that while self-care may at times be badged as ‘selfish’ and sometimes, as something that is done in isolation (some kind of introverted activity), as poets, we can actually share our introverted activity, the fruits of our self-care, with others and benefit from the support of community in ways that are not available to those who practice self care via bubble baths (for example!) — yeah, yeah I know — it’s getting old!
Be sure to listen to your soul this week. What wishes to be spoken? What longs to be brought to the present moment?
We love watching you practice self-care and turning it into art for the rest of us to immerse ourselves in like this battle production created by some of our Movers!
And while you are at it, consider capturing your words in your very own Move Me Poetry journal. All proceeds go to helping us keep the love of poetry alive!
Move Me Poetry hardcover journal | Move Me Poetry