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Poetry Pharmacy webchat – William Sieghart’s prescriptions for the time-poor, love-rich, hectic and more

Jan 2nd, 2018 by

William Sieghart of the much-loved Poetry Pharmacy handed out stanzas for your struggles, offering you salve whether you’re hopeless, homesick or lonely in love

1.48pm GMT

Goodbye everyone, it has been lovely. I hope these poems have helped.

My book is called The Poetry Pharmacy – if you want to recommend a poem to me or contact me, please email on

1.46pm GMT

polkadotfish says:

It’s my birthday on 15 December and although I love birthdays I’m starting to feel the first pangs of getting older and feeling like I’m on the wrong side of forty. I think a poem to help me reflect on these new feelings would be an appropriate birthday present!

How about Celia Celia by Adrian Mitchell:

When I am sad and weary
When I think all hope has gone
When I walk along High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on

1.45pm GMT

SassyLiz writes:

Desperate English teacher running an understaffed department and facing a week of exhausted film and chocolate indulgence followed by a week of marking and planning seeks poetic salve for the soul and reigniting of vision and passion for education in a world of absent CEOs and the O word.

From My Brilliant Image by Hafez:

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!

1.41pm GMT

misskappus says:

Tucked up in bed with the wind raging outside, and Ted Hughes’ poem Wind which has been crashing around my head for the last few days. And feeling the roots of my house, my life, the world about us, moving. And the balls of my eyes denting.

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.

1.37pm GMT

rebbre asks:

A poem on being trapped in a place that is not mine, not being able to spread my wings and fly further and continue a life of discovery. I am forever confined to the country of my son’s birth, far from my own, and far from the promises of my son’s father, my love of 10 years.

I’d recommend Imtiaz Dharker’s Front Door – it isn’t online, but should be in a collection at your local bookstore.

I often prescribe this poem for people who feel a clash of cultures in their psyche, because it can turn consternation into celebration, and discordance into hope.

1.33pm GMT

MavieB says:

My dear mum died on 23 December 2016 and the first anniversary will be next Saturday. I would be delighted if you could recommend a shortish poem that I could learn by heart to remind me of the loving, warm and funny person who was my mum. A counterbalance for when I’m feeling sad at her loss.

Elisabeth Fry’s Do not stand at my grave and weep:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

1.31pm GMT

AMcQuaid says:

I have been married for over 30 years, lonely for much of it and am now facing a ‘milestone’ birthday. Much of the time I am ambivalent about the relationship, but as my birthday approaches I find myself increasingly dissatisfied. I would love a poem to tick in my heart to keep me company.

I’d recommend Sometimes by Sheila Pugh, which has been mentioned by commenters here already.

But also UA Fanthorpe’s Atlas:

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

1.28pm GMT

Observatoire says:

Living in exile. Miss friends, country pubs, Indian restaurants, British irony, marmite, John Motson … In brief, occasionally homesick.

You might try Claire Pollard’s Thinking of England, written just after 9/11. Here is a video of it being read.

One of my favourite poems about the complex and difficult business of dealing with multiple identities.

1.26pm GMT

msbellows says:

My adult daughters, whom I’ve always described as “one of each” (whatever the question) and who’ve abraded each other emotionally for years, have finally decided they can’t be in the same room together. Neither one’s entirely wrong – it’s more a necessary passage that I trust will pass – but for the first time in 20+ years I don’t get to watch It’s A Wonderful Life with them as they laughingly bet on exactly when I’ll start crying this time at George Bailey’s frustrated and oh-so-relatable efforts to build a perfect life. A poem to help me patiently process, please?

Perhaps Nettles by Vernon Scannell:

My son aged three fell in the nettle bed.
‘Bed’ seemed a curious name for those green spears,
That regiment of spite behind the shed:
It was no place for rest. With sobs and tears
The boy came seeking comfort and I saw
White blisters beaded on his tender skin.
We soothed him till his pain was not so raw.
At last he offered us a watery grin,
And then I took my billhook, honed the blade
And went outside and slashed in fury with it
Till not a nettle in that fierce parade
Stood upright any more. And then I lit
A funeral pyre to burn the fallen dead,
But in two weeks the busy sun and rain
Had called up tall recruits behind the shed:
My son would often feel sharp wounds again.

1.19pm GMT

Dennis89 says:

Unrequited love. I’ve fallen for a work colleague but the feelings do not appear to be reciprocated. The usual remedies to console this feeling don’t seem to work as I’m continually in contact with her and my mind cannot escape. It’s a slow form of torture.

Dennis, I think you might need Wendy Cope’s Two Cures for Love:

1. Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
2. The easy way: get to know him better.

1.16pm GMT

KimthePim asks:

Have you anything to slow down time? It’s charging forward, already Christmas, it will be here and gone and onto spring before I can catch my breath!

I think you need Leisure by WH Davies:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

1.14pm GMT

RCraven says:

Anything that might help a frazzled mother of a one-year-old find herself (and self-confidence) again before returning to work in the new year would be much appreciated.

Christopher Logue’s Come to the Edge:

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and he pushed,
And they flew.

1.08pm GMT

ID0783190 asks:

How can I just ‘be’, especially at a time of year when all the focus is on ‘having’?

I recommend Feelings of Unreality by John Burnside, from Of Gravity and Light – it begins:

What we need most, we learn from the menial tasks:
the novice raking sand in Buddhist texts,
or sweeping leaves, his hands chilled to the bone,
while understanding hovers out of reach;
the changeling in a folk tale, chopping logs,
poised at the dizzy edge of transformation;

Related: John Burnside: ‘Writing is what I steal from the usual flow of things’

1.03pm GMT

quickspace says:

I sometimes find that essentially I am a pointless sack of bones desperate for some sort of meaningful reason for getting up each day and that a brief illusion of happiness might help me forget that I will painfully return to the same nothingness that was there before I was born, and that the bit in between will be made up of moments of absolute humiliation and I will somehow let down the people I love by fucking up in some way and I have no real power other than to hurt myself and others.

I recommend Everybody Sang by Siegfried Sassoon:

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

1.09pm GMT

One day as he was crossing a street, National Poetry Day founder William Sieghart saw a man be hit by a car. After getting his heart beating again, William was left with blood on his hands – and a poem in his head: Ambulances by Philip Larkin. It did not comfort him, but it offered complicity, William says: “Poetry is not a lullaby. Poems help you feel you are not mad, that what you are going through has been experienced by others.”

Motivated by his wish to “get people to drop their fear of the P-word”, William began setting up a tent at literary festivals with two armchairs and a prescription pad and allocated visitors 10-minute slots. Hours later, people would still be queuing to get their poem – and have their stories and feelings heard. After collecting poems to help people with everything from feeling overwhelmed by news to sexual repression, from loneliness to romantic boredom, William published The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul.

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