When I was offered this book of poetry to review I wanted to do more than just a basic review. This is the sort of book I would use when working with clients and the collection has been gathered with writing therapy in mind. For me spring is the perfect time to start working with clients, because it’s naturally a time of growth and change. It’s a much more natural time to make life changes or start to challenge ourselves rather than the dead of winter. Our moods tend to lift and we want to be outside enjoying the milder weather. So over the next few Sundays I’m going to use this book to show how I work with clients and some exercises you might want to try. Firstly, I’m going to write about how I felt about the collection and how it’s been framed by the editor and then look at how we respond to poetry.
This is a fantastic collection of poetry, cleverly sectioned into seasons and the emotions those seasons might inspire in us. Alongside her chosen poems are illustrations and a thoughtful reflection on how each poem has come to mean so much both to the author and to years of readers. As Kelly starts off in her introduction, ‘words can be a way to make sense of our feelings’ and I would definitely back that up from the writing workshops I’ve held. Even when we can’t find our own words, reading someone else’s can light a spark of recognition in us. Not only does it help identify feelings, it shows us that someone else has felt how we do, We are not alone. This is where this book excels, it’s a companion. It would be a great bedside table book, then if we wake in the night feeling sad or anxious we can flick through and find someone who expresses exactly how we’re feeling. It’s good to keep a notebook to hand as well, to jot down your responses. The book also excels in the way it’s laid out, split into seasons of the year. There are specific emotions that we attach to the seasons and with it being early spring I noted how hopeful spring poems are. They signify beginnings, new growth, the banishing of winter and hopefulness. As growth appears in the garden, we hear the new dawn chorus or smell a hyacinth, it can’t fail to raise our spirits. So the seasons in the book can follow the emotional seasons we experience – for example, we can sink into hibernation when feeling low or depressed. The poetry chosen really does suit it’s season well. As a writing therapist I can see how I could use this book when designing short courses on identifying feelings, beginnings and endings, how to use poetry to boost your well-being and so much more. As a reader I think it’s a great collection, beautifully illustrated and a fantastic bedside book to dip in and out of from time to time when you need support.
Response To Poetry
One of the most astonishing things about working with words is that the simplest things work. I sometimes felt, early on in my practice, that I wasn’t writing nearly enough for a session. With experience I learned that just doing a couple of exercises – a check-in, warm up write, then a longer piece – is more than enough. You have to factor in feedback time and sometimes that can take longer than the writing itself. It’s vitally important, because not only does it help the participants process what they’ve written, it bonds the group together and lets that person feel safe and listened too. Putting something down on paper then sharing it aloud is a double process where we get to see it in black and white, then say it, releasing it into the world instead of keeping it hidden inside. Either or both can unleash incredible and unexpected emotions.
Responses to poetry are a simple and powerful way for a group to get to know each other and share where we are in our life journey. Spring poems are great for this opening moment because spring is a season full of the things we might identify with – beginnings, trepidation, light, promise, hope and relief. We might be putting down a heavy burden, perhaps for the first time, so we feel lighter, we’re letting sunshine in and we’re trusting things might get better. We might be skeptical, stunned by the sherbet lemon yellow in a clump of unexpected daffodils, yet reminding ourselves there might be frosts to come. It also sounds so easy doesn’t it? So we write down how we feel and miraculously feel better? The answer is yes, it’s a process of course, but I’ve never had a participant feel substantially worse.
So, the idea is to pick up an anthology of poetry like this one or search online for poems about spring, then simply flick through until something grabs your attention. Read it through a few times then make some notes. Ask yourself a few questions about the poem, here are a few ideas:
Note down any words or phrases that jump out at you. Is it the meaning of the words or their sound that grab you? What images jump out in your head? Does the poem conjure up pictures of people or particular memories and what’s their significance? Do any words lift your spirit and which ones? What meanings come to mind for the poem’s imagery or for the poem as a whole?
I did this for my favourite poem that evokes spring and is included in Rachel Kelly’s collection. Emily Dickinson’s ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ is so meaningful to me that I had it turned into a decal for my bedroom wall. It was the first thing I saw when I woke up in the morning, alongside some carved wooden wings.
Hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul/ and sings the tune without the words/ and never stops at all.
This is so meaningful to me because when I first moved into the house I’d gone through the hardest years of my life. My husband had died from complications due to multiple sclerosis. A while later I’d met up with someone I’d known a long time before, when I was a teenager. We had a whirlwind relationship and married about two years after my husband died. What followed was two years of confusion, emotional pain, self-loathing and feeling like I was going mad. It took two different periods of counselling and re-education to realise I’d married an abuser. Someone who enjoyed dragging women down, eroding their confidence and telling them something was wrong with them. It took a terrible betrayal for me to leave, because if I’d stayed he would have succeeded in taking me away from my closest family members. I have no doubt the abuse would have worsened had I stayed. So I started a period of self- healing and it was hard, because I had a distorted sense of who I was, how I looked and my own worth. I thought that waking up to that poem every morning would help, would lift my mood and give me that grain of hope. It gave me that lift in mood, experienced when we hear the dawn chorus in spring. I also felt held safely by the promise that the bird’s song will never stop. That even when I was depleted and depressed, the bird would keep singing for me. Hope will always come, just like spring always follows winter. I have a tattoo on my back of a birdcage with an open door and the bird flying off into the distance. It represents this time too and my eventual ability to fly and sing for myself.
Meet The Author
Rachel Kelly began her career as a journalist at The Times. She is the author of four books covering her experience of depression, recovery and her steps to wellbeing. Rachel writes for the press, gives interviews and public talks sharing her motivational and holistic approach to good mental health. Her memoir ‘Black Rainbow: How words healed me: my journey through depression’ (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) on the healing power of the written word was a Sunday Times bestseller and won the Best First Book prize at the Spear’s Book Awards. All author proceeds from the book were donated to mental health charities – Rachel is an ambassador for SANE, Rethink and The Counselling Foundation and campaigns to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. ‘Black Rainbow’ is published in Sweden and the USA and in 2020 it will be published by Larousse in France. She has also written about the holistic approach which helped her recover – her second book, ‘Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness’ (Short Books, 2015) is an international bestseller and has been published in Canada, Croatia, Germany, Poland, Turkey, the USA, Korea and China. In 2016, Rachel co-wrote ‘The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food’ (Short Books, 2017) with the nutritionist Alice Mackintosh, a happiness-focused cookbook which offers over sixty recipes that promote mental wellbeing. ‘The Happy Kitchen’ has been published in the USA and Canada. Her latest publication is titled ‘Singing in the Rain: An inspirational workbook – 52 Practical Steps to Happiness’ published by Short Books in January 2019.
Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelKellyNet or visit http://www.rachel-kelly.net.