Writing Poetry as part of your Healing Process

Many parents and grandparents find writing poetry a natural step in the use of creative writing as therapy. Writing poetry is an excellent way to create something really personal and beautiful, maintaining an enduring connection with the child/children you have lost. It is a way to break the silence and allow your emotions and feelings to surface.

Some people are natural poets, but some of us have to work harder at it, or believe we can’t write poetry – that there must be some special talent that all poets share and we just don’t possess it. Well, that may be true for published poets, but therapeutic poetry is process rather than product based. For many of us publication is not particularly desirable and might even feel inappropriate.

My own poetry ‘epiphany’ came when I realised I didn’t have to create rhymes at the end of the line – or for that matter, use formal structures like iambic pentameter (ten syllables, alternately short and long). Free verse poetry can be exactly what it says on the can – free.

John Latham* describes writing poetry as ‘trawling the self-conscious’. He says ‘for me it’s crucial to disconnect my brain. What is happening is between my subconscious and my fingers.’ He explains that the process of writing poetry helped him to reach some understanding after the trauma of losing his son. He follows a first stage of free association, by reading silently to himself, then redrafting.

This is not unlike the process I use myself. I start by thinking and jotting down any words or phrases that come to me – my free association stage. Then I read them through and try to reorder them into some sort of meaningful progression or structure. Finally I revisit them, adding, editing and changing words to create rhymes. I often look up synonyms using a thesaurus or dictionary for this stage.

Why not have a go?

First stage – make a list of words of phrases. This could be triggered by:

  • an image – butterflies, sandcastles, teddy bears, handprints…
  • an event – first birthday, first day of school…
  • a phrase (perhaps repeated) – ‘I miss you’ or ‘you are here’

Think about the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.

Try to include some unusual images or symbols – but don’t overdo it.

Middle stage – try to shape the list into some sort of order or structure. Sometimes it’s good to take a break between first and middle stage – to see what else pops into your mind.

Final stage – revisit, using a thesaurus if you like, and create some nice rhymes within words (assonance) rather than at the end of sentences. Perhaps include some alliteration too (using words beginning with the same letter) like ‘waves wash’ – again, don’t overdo it.

You might have many attempts at this final stage. Play with it for as long as you like until you feel happy with it. There will always be room for improvement. I like it a bit rough and raw because then it says what you want it to say.

The sun beats down

on Regent Street.

I walk to Hamleys, choosing

teddies for the journey

you take ahead of me.

Other ideas:

Try writing a haiku – three lines (they don’t have to rhyme)

First line = five syllables

Second line = seven syllables

Third line = five syllables

Cream tea, strawberry

jam. Jacob’s sticky fingers,

George’s licky grin.

Source: *John Latham, cited in Writing Cures, Ed., Gillie Bolton

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