A new Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded study by the University of Plymouth and Nottingham Trent University discovered that people who used poetry to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic experienced a "demonstrable positive impact on their wellbeing."
The findings are based on a study of 400 people who are registered users of the website, poetryandcovid.com (now archived as poetryandcovidarchive.com), and who used the website to share and/or read other people's poetry. As per the study, they suggest that poetry can benefit persons who are experiencing common mental health symptoms as well as those who are grieving.
A little more than half (51 per cent) of the respondents said that reading and/or writing poetry helped them deal with feelings of loneliness or isolation, while another 50 per cent said it helped them deal with anxiety and sadness. A third (34 per cent) said that using the website made them feel "less anxious," 24 per cent said it made them "feel better able to handle my problems," 17 per cent said it helped them deal with bereavement issues, and 16 per cent said it helped with ongoing mental health symptoms.
"These results demonstrate the substantial power of poetry," said Anthony Caleshu, professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at the University of Plymouth and principal investigator of the study. "Writing and reading poetry, as well as engaging with the website, had a considerable positive impact on the wellbeing of the participants during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
"In addition to supporting their health and well-being, the website informed social and cultural recovery and offered an understanding of how poetry was being used as a mode of discourse during the pandemic. It now provides a historical archive for how people around the world used English language poetry to navigate the crisis," Caleshu noted.
More than 100,000 people from 128 countries visited the site, which featured more than 1,000 poems by more than 600 authors, with most being submitted by the writers themselves. One participant in the study wrote: "Poetry has been a lifeline throughout the pandemic, both reading and writing it, (sometimes a strong rope and other times a thin little string)."
Another wrote: "I'm looking to submit some poetry related to my father's recent passing, which was due to COVID-19. I want to capture some of the conflicting emotions I've been feeling since news of (several) promising vaccines have been reported so close to his death. I hope the piece will connect with others who have lost loved ones, but also provide hope for those who are isolated and waiting for loved ones to return home. This is my first piece of poetry."
Dr Rory Waterman, co-investigator and associate professor of modern and contemporary literature at Nottingham Trent University said, "It's likely that tethering poetry to a community-building platform, in this case, the website, has had a particularly positive effect on the relationship between poetry and wellbeing, as it's a way of bringing people together, the ice already having been broken."
Waterman also noted that it was also likely that "other modes of creative and expressive writing - trying to find the right words for experience or circumstance and then sharing them reciprocally - may positively affect people's health in a similar way." The wider arts, including visual and performing arts, likely have comparable potential.
"This study shows that creativity, coupled with the opportunity for safe and supportive explication and discussion, can help people endure difficult times and circumstances by providing outlets through which they can work at making sense of experience," Waterman said.