There’s no denying the fact that the world has seemed damaged for a while now. We have the multi-pronged crises of a global health pandemic, climate change impact, mass shootings, war, and a turbulent economy. Everything that could possibly go wrong has in fact gone awry.

With the gradual easing of restrictions all over the world, for many of us, getting some normalcy back brings joy. But for others, especially for those who are more vulnerable, even these much-anticipated changes can be a little difficult. The prospect of going out when the virus is still ravaging its way across the world, and the easing of the lockdown can be a real worry. It can take a toll on your mental health. 

As such, we all are trying to cope by turning to things or activities that comfort us. For me, poetry has been the best escape.

Change the subject with poetry

Generally, I am an avid reader of all things fiction, but these days I find myself too distracted to be able to sit and read a novel. It certainly does not help matters if I accidentally pick a sad story with an unhappy ending. 

However, with poetry, I can read a few poems at a time, and escape from the new normal for just a bit. I even like to take this time to scribble a few lines in my journal and just let my thoughts and creativity flow.

They say that “a change of subject is a kind of rest.” That is exactly what poetry does for me. If you love reading and are going through a similar phase where you don’t want to engage in complex stories but still need a book, trust me, try indulging in some light poetry. And, if you want to try writing a few lines, don’t hold yourself back; go for it.

Poetry helps the mind wander

“Here, at last, we shall be free.” – Iain S. Thomas

When reading or writing poetry, we let our train of thoughts flow. We connect with what is within. Sometimes when I sit down with my laptop or journal, I am surprised by what I end up writing. Letting my mind wander helps me get rid of stress. It cleanses my mind of negative thoughts and distracts me from all the negativity that seems to plague the news.

The same goes for reading poetry. Sometimes when I read a verse or poem, I am able to tap into and navigate through some deep-rooted unattended feelings. It helps me keep in touch with my inner self by forming a bridge to my emotions and giving me access to my deepest thoughts. Poetry can be the best self-induced therapy. We all could use some of that right now.

One of my favorite South Asian poets is Kiran Kapur. Her work exists at the intersection of her two worlds – North America and South Asia. As an NRI, I find her work so relatable and as a woman, it stirs my soul. For instance, her description of the Statue of Liberty takes my breath away. 

She writes:
Turns out, I never was a girl, I was all

those girls, a girl statue, torch raised, you know the one – 

standing in the harbor, wearing a sari.

In the same poem, she also says, “I am proof nothing is lost.” She gives me courage and hope. She inspires me on so many levels. 

Another South Asian poet I love is the gender non-conforming performance artist and writer, Vaid-Menon. Their work investigates the body, and society’s response to anyone who doesn’t adhere to norms, race, and transmisogyny. Born and raised in Texas by Indian immigrant parents, Vaid-Menon’s themes of alienation, finding hope in sorrow, and identity battles are relatable.

An excerpt from one of my favorite AVM poems:

it is far easier to desensitize ourselves to the world.

but what about the romance of living?

the tundra of grief, of striving, of becoming like

every breath is an invitation to another way of being?

what about the dignity of being?

i won’t settle for anything less.

Poetry comes from within

Another reason why I love poetry is because it comes straight from the heart. It is an act of spontaneous expression and it helps release clogged thoughts. Amidst everything that is going on, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed by a bad dream or just a bad feeling, and I cannot fall back asleep. I simply grab my phone and scribble a few lines onto my notepad. 

I read those lines repeatedly and within minutes, I drift off to sleep again. One of the best things about poetry is that it is an all-inclusive art form. The scope of creativity is vast and helps me release any harbored thoughts, almost like a deep exhalation of the mind.

For times when I am too tired and not in the mood to write, I always keep a book near my pillow so I can read a few poems if I am unable to sleep. 

Strict lockdowns in Singapore have been isolating and the thought of going back outside is scary. With everything going on in the world, poetry helps me cope. 

These lines by Churchill from his poem Seeds, remind me that even when I feel empty, I can plant seeds of change to tend to and grow:

I plant seeds in 

my hollow places

just in case of rain

memories I hold dear

to tend lovingly 

before any pain

I plant seeds in 

my hollow places

knowing barren

can be devastating

knowing love 

can grow anything 

Surabhi Pandey

Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to over 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. She writes on topics related to lifestyle and travel and is an active reporter on the tech startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia. She is the editor and founder of The Vent Machine – an online magazine that covers lifestyle and travel stories.

Column: From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India. More by Surabhi Pandey

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Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to over 15 anthologies in English...