Poetry: Off the Beaten Path

A friend attended a well-known residential program for bipolar disorder, and what was one of the therapeutic offerings, bless my English-major heart, but a poetry group?

So I got to thinking. . . I love poetry [I didn’t have to think hard for that]–is it possible it has medicinal powers? [I have of course begun a search, and have found points for both sides, but haven’t written much up yet–these things do take a while.]

However, poetry has an element of music in it, which, as we well  know, ‘Soothes the savage beast.”

And there are a number of excellent sites out there where difficult emotional concepts are addressed through verse. Think no further than BIPOLARMUSE‘s fine work, or of The Tale of My Heart, which sometimes deals with mental issues–and then there’s a blog where people can submit and read poetry for various mental disorders, entitled Bipolar Poetry.

So I put together s small newspaper, hand-selected and culled, just for the sheer joy of it on my part, and perhaps to open a dialogue into the power of poetry–or arts in general–to heal what seems resistant to so very many other kinds of treatment.

I began it with a feature on X.J.Kennedy, contemporary poet, and I include here a poem of his that I think doesn’t just depict an old, endangered turtle, but rather speaks to the pieces in all of us that feel old, abandoned, past our prime, and alone, fighting a fight no one seems willing to join us in anymore. It’s one of my favorites. You can find more of his work, and learn about his life, in the paper.

But for me no topic of poetry and suffering is complete without a paying homage to poet Elizabeth Bishop, who knew all too well about mental illness, addiction, and loss. Her villanelle “One Art” is the inspiration for the newspaper’s title.

One Art


The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.

Who are the people who can ‘Write it!’ when they face disaster, are they healed through their writing, and what does their poetry offer each and every one of us?

For verse, all varieties, but some on sickness and loss, and for information on poetry in general, drop by “One Art: Poems, Poetry, and Loss” at http://paper.li/Abitofthisand/1345384871.

And let me know.

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