Sheila Jacob on Why She Finds Writing Poetry Therapeutic

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By Sheila Jacob

Sheila Jacob was born in Birmingham and has lived in Wales for forty years with her husband Roger. She discovered the #healingwords campaign in an article I wrote for the Catholic Herald and has since sent some of her poems to SANE. Her praise for the initiative was very warm, and, moved by the examples of her poetry I had read, I asked her whether she’d feel comfortable writing a guest blog on how the composition of poetry has been therapeutic to her. I hope to display some of her poems in full as blogs in their own right, too.

For me, poetry is a journey of discovery. I certainly didn’t realise this until I began seeing a psychotherapist in 2013 for depression. Though I had written poetry on and off since my late teens it was the furthest thing from my mind at our first consultation, in which my husband also shared: he continued my narrative when I succumbed to bouts of blubbing and face-mopping. At some point Alun, my therapist, mentioned poetry: I must have smiled because he leaned forward and asked me why. Unbeknown to me, Alun had often used poetry as a methodology for treating depressed patients and had made a study of its therapeutic effects. However, poetry was no longer part of my life; it had dried to barely a trickle. My consolation was my Catholic faith and the Scripture, which had kept me in one piece through the difficult years between 2008-2012 during which my husband and I had lost three parents to protracted illnesses, I’d had surgery to remove a tumour from my right kidney and also become an “empty-nester.” “Death, where is thy victory?” and “The Lord is my light and my help” were my battle-cries. But I was forced to admit they were no longer enough: neither were pills and pep-talks. I was nearly 63, had experienced depressive episodes in the past and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with unresolved issues and what I called “shadows” that “lurched against my heart”.

After a few sessions Alun set me a task: to write a poem about the sessions thus far. Words began to flow again and put into perspective what was happening to me. I sent my loving, long-suffering husband up into the attic for my Gillian Clarke, T.S.Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins and R.S.Thomas books. It was like meeting long-lost friends. The more I read and wrote, the more I experienced the retrieval of a self I’d repressed for years. In my poem “The hippy dress”, written at Alun’s suggestion, the dress itself becomes a metaphor for the way I wanted to move forward.

​I want a dress

With a long, flowing skirt

That frolics in the breeze,

Laps like the running tide

Against my legs

As I pad barefoot

Across the beach.

Poetry restored my sense of self-worth and let me breathe again emotionally. The written expression of my feelings led me beyond mere self-indulgence and allowed me to connect with the mystery and majesty of the wider world and the presence of God in all creation. Each poem, like each day, is a waking up to a new facet of life. I’m still not free from my “shadows” but when they do arrive I remind myself that I can jot down on paper how they make me feel, and, perhaps, clarify them. I believe, in my own words, that

I will cross the threshold

Into a free-fall

Of sunlight; breathe the fragrance

Of summer roses

Born from winter’s bare tree.