The power of poetry

Opinion - Publishing Thursday, 7th October 2021

Can poetry help us connect? The founder of National Poetry Day William Sieghart believes poetry can aid in talking about how we feel

Whatever Covid has done to you or your family, whatever your experience through lockdown, no-one has come through this period unscathed. From the beginning of this year, whenever I’ve been zooming with people, I’ve asked them about their mental health. Nobody has refused to respond to the question. In fact, their answers have often taken up most of the call. If I had asked that question two or three years ago, I would have got a very different response. This shows how much we need to talk, think and share our feelings with each other, particularly at a time when we are all feeling so discombobulated.

But if we as adults are struggling, what does that mean for our children and their mental state? So many children cannot remember their lives pre-Covid. The months of fear and precaution, of anguish and monotony without the refreshment of spontaneity have dulled their existence, taken away their friends, their certainties and their sense of possibility. Coupled with seeing their parents and grandparents struggling, ailing and unable to give the level of reassurance about the future that they would normally expect, most children need help in unravelling the cumulative fears and anxieties that Covid has brought them.

That’s why I believe poetry is the perfect tool for parents and grandparents to engage with their children and to discover more about how they feel. Children aren’t equipped with the language or diagnostic skills to understand their own psyches. They need gentle prompting in a safe environment to begin to uncover their fears and worries.

Everyone Sang: A Poem for Every Feeling is an anthology that’s all about feelings; poems that give you a complicity with every mood. I’ve divided it into sections: poems to inspire you, to make you smile, to give you hope and to calm and connect you. This gives an initial clue as to a child’s state of mind and then an opportunity to discuss the feeling, through the poem and Emily Sutton’s exquisite illustration.

Unravelling the impact and complexities of the pandemic will take time for all of us. For the children in our lives, now is the time to start. Talking to them isn’t always easy, nor can parents always find the right way to open their children or themselves up to talking about emotions, but the right poem at the right time can provide the prompt to begin a conversation about them. As always, reading with your children can be the perfect moment to engage in conversations that otherwise may never happen.

Today is National Poetry Day. A day I started nearly thirty years ago. It’s designed for us to feel empowered to be poetic without any fear of embarrassment. It’s there for you to embrace the chance to celebrate poetry, end this fearsome isolation and explore your feelings with your loved ones.

Everyone Sang: A Poem for Every Feeling (Walker Books) collected by William Sieghart and illustrated by Emily Sutton publishes today.

William Sieghart established the Forward Prizes for Poetry in 1992, and founded National Poetry Day in 1994. He is a former chairman of the Arts Council Lottery Panel, and current chairman of both the Somerset House Trust and Forward Thinking, a charity seeking peace in the Middle East and acceptance of British Muslims. Alongside the Poetry Pharmacy series, his anthologies include Winning Words: Inspiring Poems for Everyday Life and 100 Prized Poems: Twenty-five Years of the Forward Books.