Poetry and Me: How writing can act like therapy

The sun is just below the horizon of the Santa Monica pier. The sky is orange near the horizon and deep blue at the top of the photo. The fading light reflects on the ocean in front of a city-lit pier.
When coping with major life events, finding poetry in the world around you can be a healthy strategy to deal. (Photo by author)

Have you ever been bogged down by emotions? Been so stuck in life that you felt a little less than? Maybe you’ve even struggled with mental illness. No matter how small or severe these feelings may be, there is something that you can do to help: write! Throughout the 19 years I’ve travelled through life, I — like many others — have hit some potholes along the way. When you reach these lows in life, things can get really hard, but something that has always helped me is writing poetry.

No matter how small or severe these feelings may be, there is something that you can do to help: write!

Writing poetry can be useful in so many ways; first off, it provides you with a blank page to get out all of those nasty feelings you have cooped up inside. Angry about a test grade? Write! Sad about missing out on hanging with friends? Write! Not only will this clear your mind of negativity and bring you some sense of peace, but — let’s be honest —  you’re also building your repertoire with raw and unfiltered pieces.

I know I originally named some mundane scenarios, but this works for the big stuff too. Speaking from years of experience battling mental illness, using poetry to expel some of the bad energy has helped me a lot (in conjunction with therapy, of course!). Speaking of the not-so-mundane (or maybe mundane depending on your beliefs on the subject) I recently lost my grandfather to the horrible monstrosity that is cancer. It took us all by surprise, when we received the diagnosis in the spring of 2018, but unfortunately it was just something we had to deal with. After this past August, I found it hard to cope with such a loss of light in my life and of course took to writing, but it wasn’t until I had a conversation with my mom — he was her father — over dinner while home on winter break that inspired a poem I wrote just last week called “Violent Blue.” Violent blue, to me, is the color that the sky turns right as the sun is setting and the stars peek out from behind the dying daytime sky; while this poem may read like an ode to the sky and times past, it actually has a bit of a deeper meaning. I write, “[Violent Blue], it is all of the pain, and all of the love I have ever felt.” This line is what the poem is truly about: death. I wrote this poem to cope with death, and to explore the feelings that come with dying. Everyone always wonders what happens after death, but we have not explored what comes right before. I like to believe you feel everything good and bad you’ve ever felt, but since you’ve survived for so long and have felt so much pain over that time, I think the pain becomes muted and you are left with only love.     

Poetry can also be a peek inside your subconscious; think of it like a mind map! If you are stuck on one motif or phrase in your writing, think about the deeper meaning behind it. Odds are you’re stuck on it for a reason: explore it, ask yourself why. Now, while I am no medical professional, and I seriously support going to therapy, poetry can also act as a vessel for inner healing and self discovery. Go write a poem — doctor’s orders!  

Samuel Bastille is the Long River Review literary events coordinator and a fiction panel reader. He can be reached at samuel.bastille@uconn.edu. 

One thought on “Poetry and Me: How writing can act like therapy

  1. I agree that writing can act as therapy, and it is lovely to see how a poem can carry (and/or hide) so much force behind it. That is why I prefer to write poetry as therapy. It’s like finally exhaling after holding my breath for so long.

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