Poetry Pharmacy: The healing harp in our days of consumerism
"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from god was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: So Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." - Verse 1, Samuel 23:26, the Bible
The recognition of the therapeutic use of art is nothing new. David, the healing harpist, is mentioned as curing King Saul of Israel with music back in the Bronze Age. Soranus, the Roman physician in the 1st century A.D., would have prescribed a tragedy if you were a maniac patient and comedy if you were a depressed one.
Like literature and other art forms, poetry has been found to significantly benefit patients with various emotional disorders. But in our age of consumerism, poetry therapy can be of great entrepreneurial use as well.
Entrepreneurship asks for innovation, which can come in many unimaginable ways. The way it has come to the English emergency poet Deborah Alma is groundbreaking, at least in the sense of entrepreneurship.
Alma has dared to initiate a business that sells poetry as therapy. This walk-in poetry pharmacy of hers is something we have never had before.
Poetry therapy is not that new, though. Dr Benjamin Rush, who founded Pennsylvania Hospital, the first American hospital introduced literature as an effective treatment.
Creation of the National Association for Poetry Therapy by Jack J. Leddy in the U.S. in 1969 popularised poetry therapy to an unimaginable extent.
Yet, there hadn't been any business initiative with poetry therapy as 'the' product until 2019. And then Alma came up with her poetry pharmacy – in the small town of rural Shropshire near the England-Wales border in England.
Aspiring to be a poet someday, Deborah Alma pursued a degree in creative writing. She published Dirty Laundry, a collection of poems expressing her feelings about her recently broken abusive relationship. Then she started working with patients with dementia and found poetry quite helpful to heal and communicate with them.
That's where she found the inspiration to work with poetry therapy. Then, as an emergency poet, she started travelling around festivals and literary events for one-to-one consultations with her 1950s ambulance and prescribing appropriate poems for one's specific emotional states.
Walking by a closed-down shop with Edwardian shelves and drawers on the high street in Bishop's Castle one day, she decided to buy the entire house and did so.
The shop had been closed down for 13 years, and Alma turned it into the first walk-in poetry pharmacy ever in 2019.
Entering the pharmacy, you will find a 'verse nurse' dispensing poems sealed in jars of pills, a consultancy room designed like the one of Sigmund Freud, and some space for enjoying tea and cake.
The serenity and comfort of this place will make many want to be there.
Deborah Alma will have a poem for each one's moods and preferences. The most sold poems in the post-covid days are on hope, then comes happiness and existential angst.
Reflecting upon what we seek from art in this postmodern world also shows the opportunity of art in business. Most importantly, it shows how creativity and innovation always find their own unconventional ways.