The Poetry Pharmacy

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Some ideas to inspire you to write a poem: extract from Singing in the Rain: 52 Practical Steps to Happiness by Rachel Kelly.


If the thought of writing a poem daunts you, make the process less agonising by giving yourself a time limit. Don’t worry about rhyming or scansion or rhythm or if the poem is any good. 

Instead, write straight from the heart: poetry is as much about how you feel as the words you choose and the images they suggest. Sometimes that feeling is physical, held somewhere in my body. Sometimes the feeling is suggested by a simple phrase, like my mother saying ‘I have had a good run’ which I used in a poem about her being unwell.

Sometimes the emotion occurs as a strong image. Recently for example, a boy in a yellow T-shirt flying a kite summed up happiness. So did the sight of a man in a purple tracksuit practicing shooting a ball into a makeshift goal, despite the roughness of the grass and the lack of any posts in the park.

If you want some help on structure, you might create two characters in the poem. This is particularly helpful if I am trying to make sense of something troubling. One character can personify whatever is bothering you, the other a character you identify with. Write a poetic dialogue between the two, whereby the character you embody ends up feeling empowered.

1. Set a timer for a maximum of 15 minutes.

2. Don’t worry about rhyming or the rhythm of each line. Just write from the heart.

3. Take note of whatever is happening for you in this moment.

Is your head full of thoughts? Or are bodily sensations grabbing your attention? Is something you are seeing or smelling taking centre stage? Do you feel the emotion somewhere in your body? How does it feel?
 Does it have a colour or shape? Does it smell or make a sound?

4. Is there an image that occurs to you that sums up how you are feeling?

5. Is there a line of dialogue which sums up how you are feeling?

6. You could use this first line as a prompt… Either…. ‘The sky darkened’ or ‘The sky lightened…’

7. Could you create two people in your poem to discuss whatever dilemma it is you are writing about?

8. Write first, worry second. It’s better to get something down than agonise over whether what you are doing is any good.

9. If you find it easier, you could use the structure of an acrostic poem to help give your poem form. You write down a word vertically, then use each letter as a prompt for that line of your poem.

10. If a poem doesn’t come naturally, do not worry. You could try jotting down a simple line which expresses how you are feeling instead.

11. If you are still suffering from writer’s block, set a timer for three minutes and write continuously – about anything and everything to help generate ideas.


1 thought on “The Poetry Pharmacy

  1. There are lots of Bauhaus exercises that I feel link with this, for example experimenting with words by creating ‘sound images’ or writing within a structure like having to omit one vowel or taking a line for a walk – finding your total freedom from within, basically. Depression has been truly ‘outed’ now and is heading towards a place of post-stigma, but just because society is more accepting doesn’t mean that we needn’t heed Rachel Kelly’s excellent suggestions to aid the alienated soul in expressing its creative side. She addresses all of these aspects equally well in this personal and poignant piece.

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