In Defence of Stressed:Unstressed

The Evening Standard are yet to publish this open letter to Journalist, Sam Leith, so I am publishing it here so you can all have a read. It is in reference to an article written on 19 January 2016, in which Mr Leith slams not only Paula Byrne’s incredible new Book, Stressed: Unstressed, Classic poems to Ease the Mind, but also the links between poetry and mental health.

Eleanor Carter writes on behalf of Lord Saatchi and The Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation. With ‘life saving poetry’ at its core, the Foundation is in complete support of Paula Byrne’s Charity and her newest publication.

Sam Leith’s article entitled ‘An unpoetic ode to therapy’, is not only misinformed but entirely farcical. His view on how, ‘It is to sell poetry dreadfully short to treat it as a therapeutic tool rather than a serious art form,’ is not only hurtful to those who poetry has saved, but completely erroneous.

How is this in terms of provoked feelings, Mr Leith?

The late Josephine Hart claimed that poetry saved her life. Repeatedly. It was her mantra, of which now lies at the core of The Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation. These were not the words of someone ‘selling poetry short’, these are the eloquences of a lady who had poetry embedded within her soul: “Poetry, this trinity of sound, sense and sensibility, gave voice to experience in a way no other literary art form could. It has never let me down.” Indeed, we are consistently seeing the positive effects poetry has on the young people we work alongside. Defencelessness is replaced with sparkling eyes as words are read and written without judgement or fear. Forbidden subjects are discussed and lines are read aloud to open ears. Hart would explain, “Whether of joy or despair; it (poetry) provided me, a girl with no sense of direction, with a route map through life.”

Not only have our poetry sessions provided a great many young people with new tools to express themselves, but they have highlighted to teachers the need for open discussions surrounding mental health issues. We have worked with both Charities and Schools across London and Ireland and have found that vulnerability is at large. Can you really call a traumatised young person finally finding peace with themselves, ‘a bloomer’? One thinks not.

Have you read Wexler’s, ‘A poetry program for the very elderly — Narrative perspective on one therapeutic model’? He states, “ In short, we all need poetry, now more than ever, to restore us to ourselves, and to our place in the creation, in an ever more alienating social environment.”

Or perhaps Eum and Yim’s, ‘Literature and Art Therapy in Post-Stroke Psychological Disorders’? To which they reach a conclusion that, “Literature and art therapy can identify the emotional status of patients and serve as a useful auxiliary tool to help stroke patients in their rehabilitation process”.

I remind you, Mr Leith — that mental health issues are likely to affect every single one of us, at least once, over the course of a lifetime. And it is scathing words such as yours, that put this country further in danger of never solving the mental health crisis. It is overwhelmingly condescending and haughty to assume that forms of art are created only ‘to provoke’. Isn’t art by its very nature (poetry, music, art, et al.), an expression of one’s emotions?

Professor Mark Williams, the pioneer of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (a remedy for stress and depression that carries full NHS buy-in), writes of how Paula Byrne’s anthology “’Stressed Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind’combines the healing wisdom of literary scholarship and physical medicine.” Are we to assume that you care nothing for either literature or mental health?

I will leave you, Mr Leithe — with a quote from Josephine, “Even the tone deaf could hear the music of language.”

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