Writing and Wellbeing is a series featuring writers sharing how they nurture themselves and their writing, particularly in the strange and startling times of Coronavirus. To kick off the series, Spread the Word’s Young People’s Laureate for London Theresa Lola shares her self-care tips and suggests ideas to help keep your writing and reading practice going. Theresa is leading a new campaign #SayYourPeace, encouraging people to share what makes them happy through poetry.
In times of turmoil, poems are passed around like healing oils. We are reminded of the divine ability of literature and the arts to encapsulate our varied human experiences. While celebrating this I also acknowledge the pressure writers face to create work in tough times. We can feel that the world is waiting to hear from us to articulate people’s emotions, or feel that we need to write about ourselves. I remember being on a panel with other writers talking about our experiences writing about grief, and we all had written about grief at different stages of our lives. It was something I found solace in, knowing that some write about an experience in their life whilst still experiencing it, some shortly after, whilst others wait years; there is no set time to create a poem specifically about what is going on now.
One of the ways I have countered this pressure is allowing myself the freedom to return to old ideas or older drafts. Writing that alongside a newer poem could help counter the bleaker poems you might find yourself writing now. When writing about the now, you could also tap into the small pockets of peace that you have experienced or are hoping to experience; no matter how small or big or random, there is a poem for it. I recently wrote a poem about the scrabble board game my family and I have been playing while at home. It’s one of the things that’s kept us busy and taken our mind off the stark news channels. This poem will be the poem to kick off the #SayYourPeace campaign, a campaign I’m starting with Spread the Word to encourage people to share the different things that have brought them peace in this period. Every week has a different inspiration to offer, from writing prompts, to conversations with other poets. I hope you join in!
When we mention writing we have to mention reading. They go hand in hand and help each other. If you just want to read individual poems, here is a list put together by Annie Lord of poems to keep your spirits up during the covid-19 pandemic https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-poems-positive-coronavirus-self-isolation-quarantine-a9435951.html
If you want to read some of the poetry collections of the poets on the list or have other books you have had on your wishlist, some bookshops are still doing delivery. Before lockdown, my reading habits included reading on buses and trains, and as a freelancer writer I spent a lot of time travelling to different places to read or teach. I’m thankful that I’m still enthusiastic about reading, as books have allowed me to escape into other worlds through words. Mornings right after breakfast have been the perfect time for me to read. I set a timer and read for about an hour before I get my day going. Setting the timer has been helpful for me to keep the day organised and keep my reading organised. Your suitable reading time of the day could differ significantly, find what works for you. A tip for readers; when reading, if there’s a line in the poem or novel or reading material that strikes you, that could be the first line of a free write, respond to that line in any form you find fitting, and have a conversation with it.
My self-care advice for writers is to protect your emotional energy, try and find another outlet that you can turn to when or if writing feels overwhelming. Sometimes I take a walk to get some fresh air, or I do some knitting. Protect your inner writer; your inner writer is you, so protect you.
Theresa Lola is a British Nigerian poet and facilitator. She is the 2019/2020 Young People’s Laureate for London. She has held residencies at St Paul’s Cathedral and Bethlem Musem of the Mind and been commissioned by the Tate. She was the joint winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Poetry Prize. Her debut poetry collection ‘In Search of Equilibrium’ was released in February 2019 published by Nine Arches Press, and is described as a ‘a glorious hymn to being alive and wounded.‘
Published 16 April 2020