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Poetry for wellbeing on National Poetry Day

August 17th, 2020 By Crissi Blair

National Poetry Day is the perfect opportunity to add a dose of poetry to our lives, through either reading or writing, and to give a boost to our sense of wellbeing at the same time.

A wellbeing poem

My early morning beach walk
looks like a watercolour painting
even the estuary glows
— Paula Green, Poetry Box

National Poetry Day is also a great excuse to bring the poetry books from your school or classroom library collection out onto a display for everyone to browse. And, of course, it's a chance to encourage students (and staff) to write their own poems.

This year, New Zealand celebrates National Poetry Day on 21 August.

A sign 'Pick a pocket — Read a Poem' with a display of jeans hanging on a wall with poetry sticking out of the pockets
Massey Primary School library 'Poem in a Pocket' activity. Used with permission.

National Poetry Day 2020 — activities and events

Although not on the scale of previous years due to COVID-19, there are still plenty of activities and competitions. One example is Given Words — write a poem including the 5 words provided — which includes a prize for the best entry by an under-16-year-old.

Find out what's on in your region on the National Poetry Day calendar and submit your own event to be included there.

Poetry for wellbeing

In these stressful times, poetry can provide a wellspring of goodness to turn to for comfort, encouragement, and self-expression. It's also a great resource when there's not a lot of time to spare. Taking 5 or 10 minutes in your day to appreciate (or create) a poem can provide a moment of calm or rejuvenation, or perhaps a splash of humour.

Another wellbeing poem

When I write poems
and ride bicycles
I discover new things
sun or rain, wind or sleet
— Paula Green, Poetry Box

A Poem in your Pocket

A Poem in your Pocket project can be great for your school or community. See this blog's feature image for Massey Primary School's Poem in a Pocket display.

Or follow the example of Poems in the Waiting Room, which leaves business-card size poems free for the taking in places where they'll be especially appreciated, like the doctor's surgery. I can think of many locations within a school where a stack of surprise poems might be appreciated — from the principal or counsellor's office, in the library or a quiet classroom corner, to the reception area to be enjoyed by visiting whānau, or even stuck on the back of the toilet door for a quick read!

Display poetry books, get creative

As well as being a great excuse to bring the poetry books from your collection out onto a display for everyone to browse, encourage students (and staff) to write their own poems.

Perhaps grow a 'poet tree', or use some ready-made vocabulary by creating some blackout poetry using newspaper articles or pages from an unwanted book.

A dispay showing a Poet Tree artwork, with branches with 'leaf poems' hanging off them
Poet Tree by San José Public Library. Flickr. Some rights reserved: CC BY-SA 2.0.

Performance poetry

It’s not all about feeling good – sometimes it’s about getting those negative feelings out onto the page or the stage. Performance poetry is a growing phenomenon in New Zealand with annual competitions for adults and for students.

If you want to know what young people think about the world now, get along to a slam poetry competition, or check some out online, where you will hear poets tell it like it is, and be encouraged to. It’s impactful, honest and emotional, as well as often dramatic and funny.

The Lost Words

Getting out into nature can do us the world of good. The carefully crafted poems and illustrations in The Lost Words: A Spell Book by Robert Macfarlane, with exquisite ink and watercolour illustrations by Jackie Morris, take you out into the wild world, casting spells to lure in the flora and fauna.

Hear Jackie read the poem Otter conjuring (YouTube video, 3:42) whilst painting its image.

This large, beautifully-produced book is a treasure, with each poem created as an acrostic, but often in complex ways. This could also be a great kicking-off point for writing about our own natural environment. Read about the creative process behind this book.

Poetry by and for young people

To find fine poetry (and stories) by and for Kiwi kids, seek out Toitoi. Being able to express yourself on the page is a great asset to wellbeing. Toitoi provides a beautifully produced platform where children up to Year 8 can submit their writing and artwork with the chance to be published.

School for Young Writers also publishes quality writing by and for ages 6- to 19-year-olds in its Write On magazine.

One of New Zealand's great poetry treasures for children is Paula Green's Poetry Box blog. Each month Paula issues a poetry challenge and publishes her favourite submissions. The July challenge featured another fine New Zealand poet, Selina Tusitala Marsh, whose graphic memoir Mophead won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year in the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. I can't think of a better challenge to support your wellbeing than this — to write about who you are.

The Book and Beyond guide for Mophead provides a good starting point for discussions about the themes of identity, cultures, family, and empowerment.

For older readers and writers, Paula's Poetry Shelf blog featured a delightful and reassuring series of comfort reading posts during lockdown. Find out what people from a number of different specialities, including poets, musicians, and librarians find to be of comfort in difficult times.

Find out more

Explore some of the ways reading supports different aspects of our wellbeing.

Forms of writing has supporting resources, including how you can use poems as a form of creative writing.

Read more about poetry

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