ABOUT POETRY, ITS THERAPEUTIC EFFECT, IMMORTALITY AND THE SOUL
by Dr. Raymond Fenech
Whether messages were conveyed in prose or poetic form, I always knew that there was something special about writers. Since I started writing poetry and keeping a journal when I was 13, I had heard someone say that writers were among the lucky few who could achieve immortality because what they thought and said would be around long after they had crossed the lighted tunnel.
Yet whenever inspiration dictated my hand to take pen and paper and to scribble my thoughts, I felt as if the information I was receiving was not entirely coming from inside my head, but from beyond. It was as if it was information received through channeling.
Then as I took up writing as a profession, I learnt about automatic writing. This sounded very much a realistic phenomenon because many writers and poets use this as a normal exercise to fight writer’s block. It is also used to bring about higher awareness, which helps a writer dig further beyond the normal human perception. Unknowingly, free writing can trigger off a direct link with the higher self. Personally, I know from experience because there have been times when I would drift into a spell-like trance and commence writing in a frenzy. The results often times have been very amazing. The following poem, which I wrote in a few seconds falls into this category. It was like an invisible hand guiding my pen.
The Ghost in the Inkpot
The ghost in the inkpot
guided my hand
into the yellow light
of the desert,
then into the mirage
where the water
welled in my eyes
like a fountain
of mineral crystals.
Suddenly I was
outside a world
of dimming lights
where the sun was masked
and when it tired
simply laid down to rest,
cooling its fury
into the sea
sizzling as it sank
deeper in the deep.
The inkpot’s ghost
leaves his mark
like the Scarlet Pimpernel,
in pulsating handwriting
in words from within;
with calibrated rhythm
or rhyme, like music
When I embarked on my writing career as a roving reporter aged 17, it hardly ever occurred to me that writing was actually also therapeutic. What I knew at that time was that I enjoyed putting words together, expressing myself and letting it all out. I also believed that poets were privileged because of their exceptional capability of observation, sensitivity and a determination to change the world. That was over 43 years ago and I still believe this whole-heartedly.
In those days, I was at an age when I could easily be hurt by the afflictions of young love and each time it happened, my heart was in shards. Journaling my feelings used to make me feel better. Whether I let it all out into my journal, or wrote a poem it didn’t really matter. Then, I was very much under the influence of my favourite poet, John Keats. Whilst other young people of my age had rock band musicians as idols, mine was this poet who was everything I would have wanted to be. He was as courageous and good with his fists as he was good with words and when I read about how once he beat up a bully who was kicking a puppy, he won me over heart and soul.
Becoming a journalist and a poet eventually proved to be the ultimate baptism by fire, but I set off chomping at the bit with more determination than ever. I was then attending science classes, but we still had English Language as one of the main subjects, something I excelled in. One day when I was 13, we were given an essay to write on the subject, Snowstorm. I went about it very seriously and came out with almost a short novel. My English teacher Kay called me aside after class and pointed out that I should reconsider and perhaps change to art and language classes.
I took her advice and did this at a great cost because my parents were not in the least bit impressed about my change of heart. In those times, journalism and writing were not even considered a profession and finding a job with one of the only four existing newspapers was like wishing to travel to the moon and back. But as they say, it takes 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration to become a writer and in the end my dream came true and at 20, I was one of the youngest reporters working for the leading English newspaper, The Times of Malta.
As I wrote more and more poetry, I started to realize that the way inspiration seems to come to the poet was in fact like a sort of miracle. It was like a transcendent state of mind that bequeathed lines of words that at times I hardly realized I was actually writing. Sometimes, I didn’t even get the meaning and to understand what I wrote I had to re-read more than once.
Then I concluded that poetry comes from the spirit, the very depth of the human soul.
Hence, why it is so perfect and divine. Perhaps it is also the reason why poetry can help man to remain human. Every poet is allowed to write only a little portion of all the poetry that comes to his mind and this is a privilege in itself.
Poetry is the only form of art that can actually serve as a constant reminder that there is more to life than the eye can see. Keats claimed he was God’s spy.. Plato defines the poet as, A light and winged and holy thing.
If man is to stay human, then poetry must become an integral part of his life and poets must be given more credit and respect. For this to happen, children must be taught how to love and appreciate poetry. Most children cringe at the very mention of the word, poetry. Most young people also bear a dislike to poetry and those who don’t, are indifferent to the art. America’s poet Laureate Rita Dove once said she intended to change this situation in her country. In an interview, she had stressed she wanted,, to set Americans at ease with poetry, especially those bored by the whole subject during school days. They’ve been frightened away either through some luckless encounter in the school system where they were required to … interpret it first, let’s say, instead of learning to enjoy it first. I would add on that critics and academics have contributed a great deal towards rendering poetry so unpopular.
The era of critics serving as a sieving system between writer and the public has come to an end. With desktop and self-publishing technology available everywhere, writers and poets are finding easier access to publication, without the need to go through the parochial systems of publishing that used to be determined by leading academics, critics and editors. Thanks to this modern age, a lot of talent, which otherwise would have been lost has come to the fore and acquired the recognition it deserved. Now, readers have the opportunity to decide for themselves what is good and what is bad, the results obtained sometimes going directly in the opposite direction to what academics and critics would have otherwise predicted.
Some poetry books are bought because of the influence shed by leading critics telling people how good they are. Other books sell because of the reputation of the authors, even if the content is not worth the paper it is printed on. The truth is that most readers fall victims of these critics and waste good money on books that serve no other purpose except that of gathering dust, forgotten on shelves, or in some remotedrawer. This is one of the reasons, which has earned poetry that certain unpopularity which is constantly plaguing our society today.
Poetry strikes when you least expect it. It is a lightning of inspiration that must be vented forth from the poet’s system. It froths and bubbles; it kicks the poet to a higher level of consciousness and makes him the number one thin-skinned human observer, with extremely sharp hyperactive senses, volatile, almost spiritual. Poetry is a bridge between mankind and everything else. It calls as loud as silence and no real poet can refuse to be the medium.
Poetry is the strength, the fiber behind humaneness, sensitivity and behind the greatest privilege men has, his spirit. Without poetry men would be missing an important link, that which makes them complete, in full synchronization and one with nature, the environment and last but not least, the soul.
In 2004, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was 46 and at the peak of my writing career. I was editor of two nation-wide distributed magazines and a managing director of an in-house advertising agency of Malta’s largest travel agency. All this suddenly became in the past. I was confined home for almost two years, fighting for my life against cancer, a fight during which I looked death straight in the eye so many times. But even as I lay dying after a very long and delicate operation, inspiration came to me during the voyage towards the lighted tunnel and when I was resuscitated I wrote the following poem:
Operation – Traveling Towards the Light
(To my lovely wife, Angela)
Eyes travel ahead
lasers fencing with darkness,
and the unknown.
On this cold metal bed
identity is on a plastic bracelet
and silence converses with itself.
I am no longer within
and the pain is gone.
For the first time
I am at peace
in a waking deep sleep.
Then a light appears
through closed lids,
blood red like a sun.
A sea in dreams
leaks through my eyes
Time freezes in my veins.
The Siberian cold chatters
with death until it leaves the room.
But only this time.
Life flows back
from the refrigerator
into red roses in the vase,
and the warmth of my wife’s hand.
It had always been my dream to undertake a degree in creative writing and in a desperate attempt to regain some of that joy of living, which I was losing quickly due to the illness itself and the devastating side effects of chemotherapy, I enrolled for an online BA degree with a concentration in poetry. Throughout my life as a child and eventually as a young man, my dad used to tell me, Everything happens for a purpose, even the worse thing one can think of – if it doesn’t kill you it will only make you stronger. Well that dictum was about to come true. I was also about to realize poetry/writing could be used to cure people with serious psychological problems, something I had already experienced in heartbreak as a teenager and when unknowingly, I had self-administered journal or poetry therapy.
As I was deciding what theme to choose for my thesis, I came across a title of a book, The Healing Word by Fiona Sampson. I didn’t know what the subject was all about but on reading the book, I became interested and decided to research poetry therapy for my thesis. One thing very much led to the other and suddenly I found myself wanting to undertake a basic course in poetry therapy simply to be able to know the subject better and be able to present my thesis in a more professionally way.
Most of the replies from institutions I wrote to that offered such courses were
discouraging, because the fees per credit hour ran into thousands of dollars, which at that time I simply couldn’t afford. Then, in 2009, out of the blues I received a letter from the Creative Righting Center at Hofstra University of New York informing me that I was being awarded a full scholarship in writing therapy.
Now, I know for a fact that writing in which ever form it comes gives the writer that extra superhuman strength, which makes him move forward regardless of any obstacles, allowing the inner spirit to guide him forth. Poetry is the vibrating energy without which the difference could be as distinguishable as that from night and day, life and death, water and fire, the invisible and the visible.
Poetry is in all and everything. The poet is needed as a medium to channel this form of art from life and its surrounding. For poetry means living, appreciating life, nature, all that is earthbound and even that which lies beyond. Poetry is forever and belongs to mankind. Without poetry mankind would be soulless.
About the Author:
Raymond Fenech embarked on his writing career as a freelance journalist at 18 and worked for the leading newspapers, The Times and Sunday Times of Malta. He edited two nation-wide distributed magazines and his poems, articles, essays and short stories have been featured in several publications in 12 countries. His research on ghosts has appeared in The International Directory of the Most Haunted Places, published by Penguin Books, USA.