The pandemic has hit humanity hard and the mood of much of the world is dark. Still, open any social media platform and you will be flooded with beautiful and positive posts. One such prescription for mental health comes from renowned psychiatrist Dr. Norman Rosenthal. He has prescribed poetry for the mind to battle depression.
Dr Norman Rosenthal: Prescribing poetry Rx
For Dr. Norman Rosenthal, poetry is a passion. He started writing from a young age but did not become a poet. According to him: “Truly I was not destined to become a poet”. But he never gave up on reading and penning poems. For him, poetry was a way to connect and receive emotional gifts in the form of words.
The imageries, the metaphors, and the lyrical quality of a poem render one with feelings felt at a universal level. Sylvia Plath wrote Mad Girl’s Love Song, capturing the imaginary love life of a schizophrenic, while Elizabeth Bishop captured the essence of moving on after facing a loss in One Art, as well as the powerful and compelling pieces by Maya Angelou.
Dr. Norman Rosenthal’s book of poems, Poetry Rx: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy To Your Life, spans various emotions predominantly felt during the pandemic. In this book, you will find insights into love, sorrow, ecstasy, and everything in between — love in the moment or for a lifetime, love that is fulfilling or addictive, when to break up, and how to survive when someone breaks up with you.
Separate sections deal with responses to the natural world and the varieties of human experience (such as hope, reconciliation, leaving home, faith, self-actualization, trauma, anger, and the thrill of discovery). Other sections involve finding your way in the world and the search for meaning, as well as the final stages of life.
In describing this multitude of human experiences, using vignettes from his work and life, Dr. Rosenthal serves as a comforting guide to these poetic works of genius. Through his writing, the workings of the mind, as depicted by these gifted writers, speak to you as intimately as your closest friends.
Dr. Rosenthal also delves into the science of the mind and brain. Who would have thought, for example, that listening to poetry can cause people to have goosebumps by activating the reward centers of the brain? Yet research shows that to be true.
In a short bio-sketch that accompanies each poem, Dr. Rosenthal draws connections between the poets and their poems that help us understand the enigmatic minds that gave birth to these masterworks.
When asked about his literary prescription, Dr. Rosenthal highlights the importance of reading and the impact it has on one’s well-being. Meditation, working out, all these are ways to relieve stress and pump up the system with happy hormones, a.k.a. endorphins, but it’s words that have a long-term impact on a person’s mental health.
The anthology is a must-read
The anthology presented by Dr. Rosenthal contains poems that he has written or collected over the years. Each poem has a special meaning and impact on the poet, and his patients and clients. But what makes this book such a wonderful read is the detailed discussion about how the poem has affected Dr. Rosental.
Jane Brody, who has been a personal health columnist at The New York Times for over 40 years, points out that the poems are short and easy to read. But the addition of personal notes is what makes the book even more interesting.
Words have often helped heal wounds better than any medicine. And when it comes to the healing of the mental scars, reading narratives, stories, and poems often helps people to let go of the pain and begin again.