Monthly poems chosen by your Wellbeing Advisors
Words can have the power to hurt but also have the power to heal. Poetry has been used for centuries to help express or endure some of life’s most painful and difficult moments. Poetry helps us translate the emotions of deep loss, heartache or even depression into verse. It enables us to confront our innermost feelings and thoughts providing a creative and safe channel, which we can share with others.
Poems can feel comforting and transport us out of our own world into someone else’s. Writing your own poetry might even provide a tool to process and explore complex feelings that are difficult to understand. It is also a shared experience and can offer a deep connection with others. Poetry may also help to widen vocabulary and cultural knowledge and there are many great poets to choose from, from different centuries and cultural backgrounds. They all provide insight into humanity, opening our eyes to a world of different experiences.
We thought we would use this platform to share a monthly poem that has inspired, soothed and comforted the team and hope you enjoy them as much as we have.
I have recently discovered poet called Nikita Gill. Nikita is a British-Indian poet, playwright, writer and illustrator based in the south England. She has written and curated seven volumes of poetry. Her poems to me beautifully encapsulate the human experience both joyous and tragic. Here are three of her poems.
everything is bad.
“Poets: okay, but
what if everything
is bad and we still
fall in love with
the moon and
from the flowers.”
A Lesson on Love
My dog and I do not speak the same language
Yet every day, she tells me:
I trust you to know when I need to go for a walk.
I will let you hold me when you need to
and I will ask for love when I need it.
On the days you are sick, I will lie beside you.
I will look for you in rooms when you are not here,
and I will greet you with so much joy
when I come home.
I will guard you when you sleep.
I will wag my tail and let you know
That everything will be okay
On your bad days,
and I know that you will do
The same on mine.
And from this I learn that my dog
and I actually do speak the same language.
After all, the universe is a kindly ancient thing.
It gave love as a mother tongue to every being.
When You Hate Yourself For
Revisiting Old Wounds
You revisit old wounds for the same reason
Birds will come back to the places
their nests have been destroyed.
The mind walks into the same room
because it wants to know how to fix
those floorboards, paint the walls,
turn this into a more habitable place
If it tries something different from the last time.
This is survival.
This is learning how to live through pain
once the skeletons have decided to walk out
of the closet and refuse to go back in again.
Call it the worst story you have ever owned,
a car crash within your bones
that you cannot stop staring at.
But the only way to understand pain
is to look at it and feel it
without turning away.
There is no shame in this.
Eventually, it will scab over and heal.
For Black History month and I wanted to celebrate a poet who has contributed on many different levels to poetry and raising cultural awareness.
“Linton Kwesi Johnson’s impact on the cultural landscape over the last half-century has been colossal and multi-generational….. His political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humour which he pursues them”
“Linton Kwesi Johnson‘s body of work-the sheer length, breadth, depth, politics, performance, rhyme and reason of it-bears witness to a life time of lending lyrical from to a condition that Britain has proved unable or unwilling (or both) to name”
“The wide appeal of this work seemed to be this coalition for fair play on the political level with an accurate rendition of the mood among young people on the psychological level”
Linton Kwesi Johnson can make uncomfortable listening for some but for me I have enjoyed listening to his music since the early 80’s. His uncompromising lyrics accompanied by reggae rhythms and a powerful bass line accompanied my student years and resurged again during lockdown where they took on a new life with the Black Lives Matters movement. His inspiration stems from his belief in socialism, equality and justice and his urban London experience and community based politics of radical black groups of the time. He writes in English language, seasoned with Jamaican creole.
Linton Kwesi Johnson appeared recently at an event held at Firth Court as part of the Off the Shelf Festival of Words literary festival.
I have chosen his opening poem from the performance. This was his first his published poem and is an anti-war poem, appearing in his recent book under Seventies Verse. It is dedicated to Leroy Harris, a black youth who was stabbed at a party in South London.
Five Nights of Bleeding
madness tight on the heads of the rebels
the bitterness erupts like a hot-blast
rituals of blood on the burning
served by a cruel-in fighting
five nights of horror an of bleeding
cold blades as sharp as the eyes of hate
an the stabbings
it's war amongst the rebels
madness… madness… war
night number one was in brixton
soprano B sound system
was a-beating out the rhythmn with a fire
coming doun his reggae-reggae wire
it was a soun shaking doun your spinal column
a bad music tearing up your flesh
an the rebels them start a fighting
the yout them jus turn wild,
it's war amongst the rebels
night number two doun at shepherd's
right up railton road
It was a night name Friday
when everyone was high on brew
or drew a pound or two worth a kally
soun coming doun Neville king's music iron
the rhythm jus bubbling an back-firing
raging an rising, then suddenly the music cut
steel blade drinking blood in darkness,
it's war amongst the rebels
madness… madness… war
night number three, over the river
right outside the rainbow
inside james brown was screaming soul
outside the rebels were freezing cold
babylonian tyrants descended
bounced on the brothers who were bold
so with a flick
of the wrist,
a jab an a stab
the song of blades was sounded
the bile of oppression was vomited
an two policemen wounded
righteous, righteous war.
night number four at a blues dance
a blues dance
two rooms packed and the pressure pushin up
hot, hot heads
ritual of blood in a blues dance
splintering fire, axes, blades, brain- blast
rebellion rushing down the wrong road
storm blowing doun the wrong tree
an leroy bleeds near death on the fourth night
in a blues dance
on a black rebellious night
it’s war among’ the rebels
madness… madness… war
night number five at the telegraph
vengeance walked through the doors
so tight and ripe an smash!
a bottle finds a head
an the shell of the fire-hurt cracks
the victim feels fear
o the stabbings an the bleeding an the blood
it’s war amongst the rebels
madness... madness… war
(for Leroy Harris, a victim of internecine violence)
Published in his book of Selected Poems by Penguin books
I enjoy reading this poem as it reminds me that peace and stillness that can be found when connecting with nature. The poet describes how that tranquillity can be captured for perhaps only a few seconds as they connect with their senses and absorb the sights, sounds and smells that surround them and this give them a pause from their busy mind. They also recognise they are not their thoughts but find it difficult to disconnect from them. This seems a common issue in the present day. The external constant bombardment of information from multiple sources, which sometimes sets off an avalanche of thoughts within that often feels like an impossible situation from which to escape.
Finding ways to escape from the constant bombardment of thoughts through activities such as reading poetry, practicing mindfulness can help improve wellbeing. One of the easiest methods I often use when walking when I am trying to switch my brain off is called 54321. I often use this when I am outside walking as a proactive attempt to ensure I have a break from my thoughts and tune into the peace that nature offers.
Moments of Freedom by Joanna Kay
And I stop
for a second,
like that moment when I awake
before my mind starts working.
And I stop.
And it is just as it is
for a second,
well then I become my thoughts
until I remember again
Maybe the sound of the woodpecker,
maybe to sight of the majestic Stag,
maybe the smell of the cold, damp dew,
maybe the feel of the wind on my face,
reminds me to stop.
Reminds me to return to that place,
that place of stillness,
where darkness doesn't exist,
Where freedom is a possibility
for a split second,
just being free,
just being me.
This poem by the 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi (popularly known simply as Rumi) uses the metaphor of a guesthouse to describe life’s journey. Rumi’s poetry is sublime and eloquent, and it makes us appreciate the uncertainty of life and embrace mindful living. The poem reminds us to not resist our thoughts and feelings, but on the contrary, to welcome them as if they were, noble guests that we were eager to see.
These seemingly unwelcome guests in the guesthouse of your mind will scrub away at everything that is untrue or unhelpful, if you let them. And not to worry, being guests; they will eventually depart as well, acting as a cleansing balm for the soul.
I love this poem as it reinforces the message that feelings are neither good nor bad but they
are part of the human experience. Tolerating discomfort in any form can be challenging but
identifying what we need from ourselves, treating ourselves with kindness and compassion
(like the guests) and knowing that the discomfort, pain or grief will eventually pass. Once
the feelings have subsided, (the guests have departed) we can reflect on a greater
understanding of ourselves and learn and implement new wisdom and learning from our
The Guest House by Jalaluddin Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
This poem by Naomi Shihab at first appears to be sorrowful and focus on the unavoidable presence of sadness in human life. It talks about the fragility of the future, how this can dissolve in an instant, a clearly frightening notion. The poem continues to give examples of losses that a person might experience during their life in order to know what kindness really is. Experiencing those losses emphasises the potential harshness of life and acknowledges that sorrow, inhabits the opposite pole to kindness.
The importance of kindness in people’s lives is made explicit with the observation
“Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore”
This poem finishes on an optimistic note personifying kindness, relating it to simple everyday things and regardless of its role at any given moment; kindness is conveyed as the perfect companion. Ultimately the poem’s message is that is all of humanity is worthy of respect, deserving of consideration, and in need of kindness.
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye -
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Once again, I am drawn to the healing power of nature, which is woven through this poem. “Geese” powerfully acknowledges the innate human struggle that many of us experience in today’s chaotic world. Am I enough? What is the point of it all? Am I doing the right thing? What does the future hold? These worries can become overwhelming and conjure up feelings of despair and loneliness. Mary Oliver’s poem shares the wisdom to be free of these burdens by turning to nature. When we look to nature and live like wild the geese, never questioning our belonging and value in this world, we will seek what we are looking for.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I chose this poem as it was one that I found when searching for poems to reflect on during these difficult times. As we continue to live through and witness extremely upsetting and challenging events, sometimes there does not seem any suitable antidotes and we are often left feeling helpless and hopeless. This poem, I worried by Mary Oliver taps into the response to difficult events or everyday life and that finding joy in the small things can sometimes be an uplifting response. I certainly am trying to take an uplifting song in my head with me rather than my worries.
I Worried by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
I've chosen this poem by Sheenagh Pugh as it reflects the very common worry that many of us have - which is fear of the unknown and difficulty managing uncertainty. It's a reminder that although life is full of unknowns it is also a wonderful thing to have a life full of different possibilities and that sometimes, not knowing how things will play out can really serve us well.
What If This Road
By Sheenagh Pugh
What if this road, that has held no surprises
these many years, decided not to go
home after all; what if it could turn
left or right with no more ado
than a kite-tail? What if its tarry skin
were like a long, supple bolt of cloth,
that is shaken and rolled out, and takes
a new shape from the contours beneath?
And if it chose to lay itself down
in a new way; around a blind corner,
across hills you must climb without knowing
what's on the other side; who would not hanker
to be going, at all risks? Who wants to know
a story's end, or where a road will go?
This month’s poem is from the latest collection Sanctuaries of Invention by Trinidadian writer Jennifer Rahim, recently published in the UK.
It seems to have been a long and problematic year and winter is now closing in which can be a difficult time for many. Creating a special place in our hearts for our home country, city or significant and meaningful place may be possible and can be conjured through the senses by a taste, smell, image or music and can transport us back there through the wonder of imaginations. However far we may travel from these beloved places we can take them with us and use these memories to sustain ourselves through the dark winter months.
Wherever I Go …by Jennifer Rahim
There will be an island,
and an ocean will be
what rings me.
We are to the very end
a naming not our own,
though we leave to find
what is left behind
and that holds us,
more than we know,
like a small beach
has the ear of the great sea
and a trillion ebbs
are never without returns.
This flow is the staying,
though we depart.
An oyster takes a single grain
and stores it in her heart’s muscle
like a lover’s memento;
she never lets us go …
Autumn this year, despite the continuing uncertainty and awfulness of the pandemic and the deep worry that climate change can evoke, has been colourful, gentle and mild.
There are so many poems dedicated to Autumn it is hard to choose and that might be a reflection of how the season plays on all of the senses as well as the feelings that are evoked as another year comes to a close.
Autumn can inspire feelings of loneliness and sorrow, though it can also help us to feel the sacredness of sharing that solitude with each other. It shows the beauty of release, acting as a catalyst to our own introspective nature.
Here are two short poems; Winds of Autumn by Saiygo reflects the impact this season can have on the senses and Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost the transient nature of the seasons and however beautiful or stark it may for a time it will inevitably change.
Winds of Autumn, by Saigyo
Even in a person
most times indifferent
to things around him
they waken feelings
the first winds of autumn.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
It’s National Poetry Day Today!
National Poetry Day is the annual mass celebration on the first Thursday of October that encourages all to enjoy, discover and share poetry. This year, National Poetry Day takes place on 7 October 2021, and the theme is Choice.
National Poetry Day generates an explosion of activity nationwide, thousands of amazing events across the UK – on doorsteps and at kitchen tables, in gardens and streets, in schools, libraries and public spaces both online and offline – all celebrating poetry’s power to bring people together.
The Day starts conversations, it encourages love of language – and best of all, it’s open to absolutely everyone to join in, quietly or noisily in rewarding and enjoyable ways. As the artform’s most visible moment, it showcases the ways in which poetry adds value to society.
The poem I have chosen to share is by the current Sheffield Poet Laureate, Warda Yassin called Weston Park
by Warda Yassin
l found the photograph in the brown suitcase with the clipped passports,
grandfather’s cassettes and those old red NHS logbooks.
Hooyo is wearing an oversized, white T-shirt and her sinewy curls
scamper across her shoulder blades, jet black eyes dare the moon.
Now, she will tell me these were unruly days of impromptu photo shoots,
ankle deep in primroses, the loneliness of motherhood in Edward Street flats.
Aragsan’s henna buzz-cut is the focus, turning everything bokeh,
even then ironclad, her smile reminding you why she married last.
One day, she will succumb to the community and gift her daughter with all
the ways to remain kind and good and modest. Then there’s Abdisalam
who’s only Abdi here. His face framed by a cloud of afro, ebony skin stark
against a sanguine smile. Soon, he will learn to answer to a half-name
as he juggles a half life – weekdays spent scolding sons for eyebrow slits
and fades; those Sundays longing to cut across his boyhood mountains.
© Warda Yassin
Warda Yassin is a British Somali poet and teacher based in Sheffield . Her debut pamphlet Tea With Cardamom (Smith|Doorstop) won the 2018 New Poets Prize. She won the 2020 Womens Poets’ Prize and is the current Sheffield Poet Laureate. Twitter @warda_ahy
To find out more and read, share and enjoy some of the selected poems follow the link
For many of us, rather than the end of summer, autumn signifies a new beginning; a return to a new school year, job or a new place to live, work or study or find refuge.
I chose this poem as I hoped it would reflect this time of change which can conjure a range of different emotions, some positive such as excitement and anticipation but also uncertainty and doubt or relief. Inevitably this will be a time for reflection and adaptation and letting go.
Captured beautifully in the blog post 5 poems to inspire new beginnings the author of the blog The Motivation Angel, Christine Evangelou writes
“It is a chance for an entirely new cycle to begin in our lives- a beautiful time to inspire new beginnings.
Sometimes we hold on too tightly to what we know and what we have, and we lose sight of all that could possibly be. We drown out our desire in favour of comfort, and we dull the voice of our heart as fear settles into our body. But there is nothing more beautiful than a new beginning. It offers fresh hope and a sparkling new perspective on life.
We all deserve the beauty of a new beginning. We all deserve to forgive our past mistakes so that we can move forward once more. Letting go is a deep, misty and winding road of inner reflection. It is a brave journey, so appreciate and celebrate each small, tentative step you take forward.
Before you let go, you must allow yourself to let in. The sadness, the loss, the heartache. Keep what you need to move forward and softly kiss farewell to the rest. Make sure that you are healed and ready for something more. Something that breathes fresh life into your bones, sings a song to your soul, and blasts through the dark spaces to shine some newness back into your life.”
For A New Beginning | John O’Donohue- To Bless the Space Between Us
“In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you”
For more poems to inspire
I chose this poem because it reminds me that success comes in different forms and we all get to decide what success means to us. I think it's really easy to get swept away with the material things in life, and it feels important to recognise the power of experiences with loved ones.
Edgar A Guest
I might have been rich if I'd wanted the gold
instead of the friendships I've made.
I might have had fame if I'd sought for renown
in the hours when I purposely played.
Now I'm standing to-day on the far edge of life,
and I'm just looking backward to see
What I've done with the years and the days that were mine,
and all that has happened to me.
I haven't built much of a fortune to leave
to those who shall carry my name,
And nothing I've done shall entitle me now
to a place on the tablets of fame.
But I've loved the great sky and its spaces of blue;
I've lived with the birds and the trees;
I've turned from the splendor of silver and gold
to share in such pleasures as these.
I've given my time to the children who came;
together we've romped and we've played,
And I wouldn't exchange the glad hours spent
with them for the money that I might have made.
I chose to be known and be loved by the few,
and was deaf to the plaudits of men;
And I'd make the same choice should the chance
come to me to live my life over again.
I've lived with my friends and I've shared in their joys,
known sorrow with all of its tears;
I have harvested much from my acres of life,
though some say I've squandered my years.
For much that is fine has been mine to enjoy,
and I think I have lived to my best,
And I have no regret, as I'm nearing the end,
for the gold that I might have possessed.
Many people find using meditation or mindfulness will to help reduce stress. This is an ancient practice with its origins in Buddhist and other eastern traditions. If meditation or mindfulness does not work for you, immersing yourself in a short contemplative poem can be effective as the words and images they evoke can help you to focus and clear your mind of every other thought. This poem supplied by Jayne Tulip is a perfect example of this.
We invite you to empty your mind of other thoughts by absorbing yourself in the words, bringing alive the images in your imagination, taking yourself into the moment shared by the poet.
This poem and other poems carefully picked to reduce stress can be found in the book “Stressed Unstressed”
Classic poems to ease the Mind
Published by William Collins 2016
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
I have chosen this poem by Wendell Berry as it reminds me that the simplicity of nature can bring about a sense of calm and tranquility and help me gain perspective when I may be experiencing difficulty in my own life. By being an observer of nature going about it's business, shows me how to be peaceful within myself. I am a huge fan of spending time outdoors and connecting with nature and feel this poem sums up the power of what nature can do for us. It also feels extremely relevant as this week is mental health awareness week - and the theme is connecting with nature.
The Peace of Wild Things
Written by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I chose this poem as during this time of change and uncertainty it offers some reassurance that things will get better. Lockdown restrictions are lifting; there might be feelings of anxiety around this change, and maybe the expectation that we should be happy. This poem offers reassurance and does not pretend that life is all fun or always perfect. There is also an acceptance that there is not always a need to dwell on the more painful aspects of life and sadness. There will be moments where we can look at life and its beauty and be reassured that someday and at some time things will be or feel all right.
Everything is Going To Be All Right
by Derek Mahon
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart;
the sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
This poem was given to me years ago when I was going through a bereavement. Throughout that time I found it such a comfort to have this poem close by and it helped to remind myself that grief and loss isn’t something we just “get over”. But is more something that with time, can find its place in our lives and can change; maybe sometimes being in the foreground and other times being in the background. I know this year has been particularly difficult for everyone. Many of us have experienced bereavements or really felt the loss of social contact that has come from the lockdowns and restrictions. Over the years I have turned to this poem when I have experienced any kind of loss and it’s always provided the comfort that I have needed in those moments.