Friday, 28 May 2010

Poetry As Therapy -- By BeWrite Books Poetry Editor Sam Smith

Art, every kind of art, can be defined by its function.

When any music is played as background music it becomes by definition musak. Likewise when painting or the writing of poetry are used solely as a means of self-expression then both become by definition therapy.

Now let us suppose that there are only three purposes to writing — to explain me to you, you to yourself, and me to myself. Therapy can use the first and last of these. And that is as far as such writing goes.

Such ‘poetry’ therapy depends on the lingering superstitious belief in the runic power of words, on the use of the magic power of words to make the strange commonplace, ordinary and unthreatening — express a troublesome idea, a bothersome fixation and, by putting it into words, make it safe.

But any artist, to be worthy of the name, has to begin by questioning his or her every assumption; and assumptions are the glue which hold most individuals together. The true artist then has to go beyond assumption and question their every certainty, must question even the validity of their own experiences.

This self-regarding, this destructive narcissism, although essential to the process of making art, does not lead to psychologically well-balanced individuals. Consequently those who place art, or any other goal, as more important than equilibrium, have to be a psychotherapist's nightmare.

And yet counselling groups employ poetry as therapy? And those ‘poets’ assume their outpourings to be deserving of publication?

For any such self-expression to become art further critical self-examination is required. Because without that self-lacerating, self-disparaging self-criticism all such self-expression is but self-decoration.

That is not to say that the creator, to be a true creator, must risk his or her equilibrium.

John Clare, for instance, initially took strength from his unique talent, even though he ended as a man driven mad, driven into himself. The foundation for that, however, was laid first by a denial of his art, then by a brief and false celebration of it. What it was that destroyed him, what near obliterated his sense of self, was not his art, but the physical and social destruction taking place all around him. Making John Clare truly a poet for our time.


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