This morning, love, I'm tired and grave;
I can barely hear the wintered bird's small song
over the hum of the central heating.
We must trust, I suppose, to the song's bare minim:
that spring will be a green havoc
as the trees burst their slums
and the dirt breaks open to admit
crocus-spear and cyclamen;
and though we can't yet feel it
earth's already begun
her slow incline, inch by ruined inch,
easing you back from the brink.
By Fiona Benson, from Vertigo and Ghost, published by Cape Poetry
Whether you're dealing with the daily stresses and strains of life in a pandemic or struggling with deeper issues, your mental health is important and everyone needs a little time-out with a good poetry book! For mental health awareness week we've curated a selection of poetry collections which speak out about a wide range of mental health issues as well as some uplifting anthologies for those in need of poetry therapy. Please do take note of these trigger warnings for anorexia, abuse, depression, suicide and loss. We realise these topics may be hard for many, but equally we hope one of these books might speak to someone in their hour of need and help show you you're not alone. Whatever you may be going through, poetry can help.
#1 Sometimes only a poem will do. The Poetry Pharmacy is full of poetic prescriptions and wise words of advice to comfort, delight and inspire; a space for reflection and realisation that you're not the only one who feels like this.
#2 Deborah Alma, The Emergency Poet, prescribes a wide range of poems to help overcome stress, depression and other anxieties. Arranged by spiritual ailment, this anthology includes new and old verse, to comfort those in need of a pick-me-up.
#3 Alice Hiller’s debut performs an extraordinary act of witness and restitution. Working with her childhood medical notes, bird of winter finds a way to speak out about sexual abuse and anorexia, bravely confronting the aftermath of trauma and finding a language of healing.
#4 Tracking the highs and lows of the path through addiction, and wrestling with desire, Calling a Wolf a Wolf is a darkly sumptuous debut from award-winning poet Kaveh Akbar. These are powerful, intimate poems of thirst: for alcohol, knowledge, life which reveal the rocky road to recovery.
#5 The first half of this book deals with mythic violence against women but Fiona Benson's Vertigo and Ghost shifts, in its second half, to an intimate document of depression and family life. Fiona Benson sounds out the complex terrain of early motherhood – its anxieties and claustrophobias as well as its gifts. A moving account of mental health in motherhood.
#6 Ben Wilkinson's debut Way More Than Luck tackles the often taboo topic of men's mental health in a brave sequence about battling clinical depression: the “days when you weren’t anyone. Days gone undercover”. The author interrogates depression in all its forms: “two-parts sadness, one-part anger”, grapples to understand its sources and finds renewed joy through running.
#7 In September 2017, Helen Calcutt’s brother Matthew took his own life aged 40. How do we survive such tumultuous grief? How does the trauma of losing a loved one to suicide affect our identity, our creativity, and our ability to love? How – in a world shattered by incomparable change and severe loss – can we rebuild our lives? In this pamphlet Helen Calcutt shows we do. Somehow.
#8 Spoken word sensation Hollie McNish turns her raw realism to the anxieties of parenting. Nobody Told Me is told with a characteristic candour and comedy that is utterly relatable to any new parent struggling to stay sane whilst raising a child. Or for new fathers, why not explore Niall Campbell’s Noctuary, a lyrical take on night feeds and the mental impact of sleeplessness as a young father anxiously caring for a newborn.
#9 Safety behaviours explores the many coping strategies we use in moments of fear, anxiety or panic. Emma Jeremy finds a dark humour that sustains the reader through these unsettling but necessary poems.
#10 The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is a beautifully illustrated book of hope for uncertain times, full of wisdom and warmth which has inspired many readers worldwide: 'When the dark clouds come... keep going.'