A poetical approach to emotional themes

30th January 2009 at 00:00

Poetry can be the key to helping distressed young people open up and talk about how they are feeling, say the people behind a new Samaritans resource.

"The magic of poetry is that it makes people stop and listen in the way ordinary speech or writing does not," explains Cheryl Moskowitz, a poet who worked on the project.

The Samaritans resource follows on from work in 2007, when poets visited four rural schools in Shetland, Ardnamurchan, Skye and the Borders and introduced 14 to 16-year-olds to verse by the likes of William Blake and Miroslav Holub.

Many pupils were sceptical about poetry and appeared disinterested at first. The way to make it work is not to be explicit about emotional health, says Frances Simpson, Scottish development officer for Samaritans. Poetical themes are deliberately mixed with emotional themes, so a discussion on self-harming could be preceded by one on metaphor.

"If we had said, 'this is about emotional health', they wouldn't have come, or they would have come with a different attitude," she says. "It might have frightened some if they had thought they were going to be forced to talk about their feelings or reveal something about themselves."

The pupils look at how poets deal with feelings and emotions, in the hope that this will act as a conduit for those concealing distress. Poetry is not used as therapy, Ms Simspon says, but to give confidence to those wary of speaking to adults: "It's about overcoming that fear."

The workshops are a "very good first step, an opener", she says, stressing that any Samaritans work concludes with advice on where to go for more help. The new resource is part of the Samaritans' Developing Emotional Awareness and Learning schools programme for pupils aged 14 to 16. It includes four plans for 45-minute lessons which can be used by anyone who has experience of working with young people.

www.samaritans.org; E: f.simpson@samaritans.org.

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