There have been times in my life when, disdaining the bad poetry I heard too much of at open readings, I set the concept of “poetry as therapy” against “poetry as art,” holding them in opposition and choosing to value the latter and discount the former. But every once in a while I am reminded that poetry’s place in human life is not so simple, that art and healing are not mutually exclusive, and that great poetry is indeed curative. ~Poetry Guide Margy Snyder
There’s a lot of truth in The Guardian’s recent survey of this topic:
“The Reading Cure,” by Blake Morrison
“The idea that literature can make us emotionally and physically stronger goes back to Plato. But now book groups are proving that Shakespeare can be as beneficial as self-help guides....”
Morrison surveys “the rise of bibliotherapy,” reading groups for the depressed and the mentally and physically ill, as “an experiment in healing, or, to put it less grandiosely, an attempt to see whether reading can alleviate pain or mental distress.” But his article gets more interesting when he comes to the literary history of “the idea that books can make us better.” Supposing that “the most convincing argument for the effectiveness of bibliotherapy comes from writers themselves,” Morrison recounts the experiences of George Eliot and John Stuart Mill recovering from life crises through cathartic reading, and then surveys the soul-healing powers of poetry that “take[s] us to dark places rather than bright ones,” citing Hopkins, Wordsworth, Hughes, and Hardy.