The words that can make us calmer

Source: BBC News

By Fiona Macdonald

In the introduction to his new book The Poetry Pharmacy, William Sieghart quotes the British playwright Alan Bennett. “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

Sieghart’s book is subtitled ‘tried and true prescriptions for the heart, mind and soul’, and it brings the special and particular in 56 poems to bear on anxiety, depression and grief. Whether it’s a poem to read before a party – which “can inject self-belief like a shot of adrenaline” – or 17 lines that remind us “there is a small, wide-eyed animal within each of us that doesn’t understand why we keep kicking it”, the words in The Poetry Pharmacy have replenishing qualities. “This is not a poetry anthology, it’s a self-help book for life,” says Sieghart, who has dispensed more than 1000 ‘poetry prescriptions’ since his Poetry Pharmacy began in 2014.

(Credit: Alamy)

More Poetry is Needed billboard public art by Jeremy Deller in Swansea; Sieghart has spent 25 years trying to inject poetry into everyday lives (Credit: Alamy)

He established the UK-wide National Poetry Day in 1994, after setting up the Forward Prizes for Poetry a couple of years before that – and is constantly trying to find ways of bringing poetry into everyday lives. “I’ve spent a quarter of a century – or more – trying to get poetry out of Poetry Corner,” Sieghart tells BBC Culture.

The Poetry Pharmacy is “a distillation of a whole life’s work”, he says, arguing that the prescriptions encompass “people’s access point to poetry – time of need. I feel at last I’ve been able to explain what’s obsessed me all of these years.” In the book’s introduction, Sieghart reveals what first drew him to poetry: “I was eight years old when I was first sent to boarding school, and I was desperately unhappy. At a time when friends were in short supply, I found that poetry became my friend.”

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