National Poetry Day: Poetry for Wellbeing - a retrospective

It's National Poetry Day and this year, Hampshire Cultural Trust Museum Assistant Amy Humphries is taking a look back at the Poetry for Wellbeing course she participated in during lockdown.

"In the spring of 2021, Hampshire Cultural Trust, in conjunction with Hampshire’s Poet Laureate, Kathryn Bevis, ran a Poetry for Wellbeing course that was free for Hampshire residents.

By chance, I came across the poster for the course in an email. At the time, the country was still under national lockdown restrictions and my world had narrowed to the walls of my home and the perimeter of the village.

The course invited its participants into the landscape of the South Downs through the now-familiar mode of Zoom and pre-recorded films. We crafted our poetry in response to these landscapes and, in doing so, travelled beyond the confines of our immediate environments. It was a great gift and a reminder that, in creativity, we can find great freedom.

Poetry for Wellbeing - Responding to the Living World

I had always loved poetry and I had often dabbled in writing poems, but I had never done so with any great purpose or consistency. Poetry for Wellbeing gave me both as, every Tuesday, I sat down to write and I have done so—albeit with slightly less consistency —ever since. Poems spring out of me often when I least expect them to and sometimes it’s best to go with the flow! I’ve been keeping a notebook in the months since the course and it has slowly filled up with poems of all kinds.

Another thing the course did for me was quite unexpected. It took the fear out of sharing poetry (or any writing, really!) with other people. The group that was created was truly wonderful. We were all different ages and came from different parts of Hampshire, as well as different walks of life. Yet, what we created was a wonderfully supportive atmosphere, where everyone felt safe to share what could sometimes prove to be quite personal poetry. As the course went on, I found myself growing more confident about sharing my poems with others and, to my never-ending delight, they tended to like them, too!

If you have the opportunity to work with Kathryn on one of these courses, then you should grab it with both hands because you won’t regret it. Especially after the last couple of years, I think having an outlet of expression is incredibly important and it’s not something that we always remember to give ourselves. Poetry is one such outlet amongst many and you can start a poem just by looking out of a window, or perhaps at the room around you. Ask yourself these questions and jot down your notes:

- What can you see?

- What can you hear?

- What can you smell?

- What can you touch?

- What can you taste?

- What do you feel?

If you’ve got notes for these things, you can write a poem. It doesn’t need to rhyme. The lines can be long, or they can be short. You might have a comma after every line—or you might not have any grammar at all. Don’t overthink it, just give it a go. Just remember one thing: don’t throw anything you write away! It’s all valuable, even if you can’t see it at first. Resist the urge to scrunch up that piece of paper. It’ll come in handy later, I promise.

The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day is 'Choice'. The idea is that everyone should choose a poem. Whether that is a poem of your own or one written by another poet is entirely up for you to decide! If taking part in the Hampshire Cultural Trust’s Poetry for Wellbeing Course has taught me anything, though, it’s that there are poems in everyone—they just need to be let out! So, perhaps for this National Poetry Day, you might consider picking up a pen and choosing to let a poem of yours out.

Below is one of the poems I wrote during the course, inspired by the seaside landscape at the Seven Sisters:

Feel the warmth of the sun,

Trip her fingers across your skin, dear one,

And taste the tang of the waves as they splash their greeting, their welcome home.

Your feet are grains of golden sand

That rise in cities crafted by tiny fingers

To the knobbly pebbles of your knees.

Your spine is built of cliff chalk,

You are carved, rendered, born from this coast.

From your hair flies the gulls whose mischief

Has always been at one with the churnings of your heart

Into the sky that rises swift from your brow they go,
Cawing to the beat of the salt and brine that thrums in your heart.

These fossiled eyes have born witness to millennia,

To your first steps, and to all you have lived since.

My child of the sand and cliffs,

You who are born of rugged winds and conquering waves,

Know this: the sea will flow with you,

Until your sun finally sets,

No matter how far inland your footsteps stray."

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