Monthly Archives: June 2017

Writing the therapeutic journey #1: a part of my story

Anniversaries are interesting things. As human beings we seem fascinated by them. I suppose they give a focal point for remembering, for reflection, for noticing the years are passing (on their inevitable march towards our demise), for coming together, for apology, for celebration…

One anniversary is knocking on the door of my consciousness: it is four months since my final therapy session (ever? I doubt I would ever claim that.) Four months ago, after a period of seventeen years of regular therapy, I stopped having sessions with my current therapist.

I would not claim to be ‘sorted’. I consider that I live with depression rather than I am ‘cured’ of it. I do recognise that I am much more resilient emotionally and psychologically. I feel more comfortable with who I am, I accept more readily my vulnerabilities and failings. I understand how my history continues to intrude into my today. I feel joy and the support of others. The word journey is probably much over-used, but it fits here, it has been a long, challenging, difficult, fascinating, enriching journey.

I take up my battered Pocket Oxford Dictionary with its loose and thumbed pages. ‘Journey’: to travel, expedition, voyage. From the French ‘journee’ meaning day. Connected (importantly for me) to ‘journal’ (more on that later).

I have had three therapists over the years. I miss all of them in different ways for what they brought with them to sustain me and my journey. I certainly miss my most recent therapist, Annie, some days more than others.

There are two important legacies bequeathed by my therapists. Firstly, the space they (we) created together in which it was okay to examine me, my story, my life. Finlay calls this the ‘between’ ‘The mysterious intersubjective space between, where we touch and are touched by the Other in multiple, often unseen ways…’ (Page 3. Linda Finlay, Relational Integrative Psychotherapy, engaging process and theory in practice. Wiley Blackwell. 2016.)

I like the Dixie Chick’s definition:

‘When the calls and conversations
Accidents and accusations
Messages and misperceptions
Paralyze my mind

Buses, cars, and airplanes leaving
Burning fumes of gasoline
And everyone is running
And I come to find a refuge in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me’

                                                     Easy Silence, Dixie Chicks

Though in truth, rather than keep it at bay, the ‘easy silence’ allowed me to examine my world, without becoming totally overwhelmed by it.

The second legacy is that my therapists’ words, their ways of being, have stayed with me. They are a gentle and nourishing counter-balance to my own tendencies to self-criticism and towards self-annihilation. Tendencies which can sometimes become augmented by the attitudes of others and events. I have left my therapists, but they do not leave me.

There are other significant things which have brought me to where I am. Good support from my husband, my sister and friends. A healthy diet, exercise and yoga. Making more of a connection with nature. And last, though certainly not least, writing and my writing journal. Having reached this particular way-station, I thought I might return to my continuing passion: writing for wellbeing. On this blog, over the coming weeks/months, I will explore ideas around the connection between writing and wellbeing. I hope there will be readers who will want to join me on this particular branch line.

7 Prompts for Writers #7: Poetry

Poets and readers of poetry will spend endless amounts of time arguing about what is poetry. For some, a poem is not a poem unless it rhymes and sticks to a strict rhythmic pattern. I happen to disagree with this stance. A poem can be hung together around the sounds of words, a metaphor or a shape on the page, for instance. Personally, I think there is much more cross-over between prose and poetry than some traditionalists might want to admit, for me it is a continuum.

There are some great definitions of what poetry is in The Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (edited Dennis O’Driscoll, 2006). However, I would struggle to say why they don’t apply to prose. I like Stephen Dobyns’ introduction in Best Words, Best Order:

‘I believe that a poem is an emotional-intellectual-physical construct that is meant to touch the heart of the reader, that is meant to be re-experienced by the reader. I believe that a poem is a window that hangs between two or more human beings who otherwise live in darkened rooms. I also believe that a poem is a noise and that noise is shaped. A poem is not natural speech, it is artificial speech.’ (Page xii, 2003).

On the other hand, could we not also say prose is a construct, meant to reach a reader? A window between people? A noise shaped into a narrative and to a page? We all know when we sit down with a book what we have in our hands is a series of squiggles on a page we have agreed to understand as a language with meaning. It is the business of all writers – whether prose or poetry – to use those words in such a way that the reader forgets the artifice and accepts to enter (with head and heart) into another world, a world we co-construct together.

I would argue, therefore, that prompts I’ve advocated previously – especially use of a writing journal, free writing, using all the senses and taking note of our own experiences/feelings within our own bodies – are equally prompts for those intending on writing poetry.

A poem is a conversation between people

All writers should be avid readers. We learn so much about our art and craft by studying others. Just as an art student visits galleries or a music student attends concerts. To write poetry read poetry and plenty of contemporary poetry – there are many anthologies in our beleaguered libraries, use them before they disappear or borrow unashamed-ably from friends.

Now here’s something to try. Find one line from a poem you like. Write it down in the middle of a page. For three minutes, write quite freely your own words and phrases around it. Then re-write the line on another piece of paper. Study it, read it out loud, notice the rhythms and patterns made by the words. Ruth Padel’s 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem (2002) is a good guide in this regard. Now start with a clean page. Using your own words which you noted in the first three minutes, see if you can echo in some way the sound or the timbre of the original line you picked. Put it in a drawer. Take it out five weeks later and read it out loud. If you are still pleased with it, share it with others.