Poems can be a great source of comfort when you’re having a difficult time. William Sieghart, author of the Poetry Pharmacy Returns, believes that there’s a poem to match every situation we find ourselves in as we go through life. He prescribes poems to help people cope with whatever they are going through.
In this episode, William talks about the experience of witnessing a non-fatal road traffic accident and talks about how poetry helped him to cope with the experience. If you want to skip this section, it’s between 11.36 and 14.12.
William has been promoting poetry for many years. In 1994, he founded National Poetry Day which is held on 3 October each year. He also founded the prestigious Forward Prizes For Poetry in 1992.
“In hindsight, I’ve been using the poetry pharmacy for myself for quite a long time,” he says. “But it was never really articulated for me until a friend of mine came up with the idea. During the Olympics, I edited an anthology for Faber & Faber called Winning Words and I was doing that thing that writers do, which was travelling around literary festivals promoting their book.
“A friend of mine was programming a festival called Port Eliot down in Cornwall and she said: ‘You’re always sending me poems to cheer me up or deal with difficulties in life, I’m going to set you up at Port Eliot after you’ve given your talk and I’m going to put you in a tent with a couple of armchairs and a prescription pad. And people can book in on a blackboard for 10-15 minute slots to come and talk to you and tell you their worries.’ And I though: okay. She said: bring down photocopies of as many poems as you can think of to help people and that’s what I did.
“I thought I’d do this for an hour or so, but six hours later – with a very full bladder – I was still there. I was there really for the whole weekend. And then I realised that my friend Jenny had come up with an idea that really crossed over – that really attracted people.”
William says that most people turn to poetry in times of need and having a poetry prescription helped them to connect with it. “To read something that is beautifully articulated that expresses your feelings gives you the sense that you’re not alone – and you’re not mad,” he says.
“And what’s more, if that was written 500 years ago, it makes you realise that we’ve always felt like this, and this is really quite normal to feel like this. I think that’s very significant.”
The Poetry Pharmacy Returns (Particular Books, £12.99) is on sale now in the UK.