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Photo: Lee Allen Photography
Dispensing poetry on prescription: Shropshire’s Emergency Poet, Deborah Alma.

Sometimes poetry can play a role in emotional healing. I think that’s because ordinary sentences often miss the mark but poetry is fluid enough to go where it’s needed. In the UK, a Shropshire poet is putting her faith in this art and opening a “poetry pharmacy.” She notes that a recent report shows “poetry sales were up by more than 12% in 2018, driven largely by younger buyers.”

Alison Flood writes at the Guardian, “Following in the hallowed footsteps of Milton, who wrote in 1671 that ‘apt words have power to swage / The tumours of a troubled mind / And are as balm to festered wounds,’ the poet Deborah Alma is preparing to open the UK’s first poetry pharmacy. Here, instead of sleeping pills and multivitamins, customers will be offered prescriptions of Derek Walcott and Elizabeth Bishop.

“Alma, who as the ‘Emergency Poet’ has prescribed poems as cures from the back of a 1970s ambulance for the last six years, is now setting up a permanent outlet in a shop at Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire. An old Edwardian ironmonger’s, it still has the original fixtures and fittings, and, together with her partner, the TS Eliot prize-shortlisted poet James Sheard, Alma is preparing to turn it into a haven ‘to help ease a variety of maladies with the soothing therapy of Poetry.’

“Dressed in a white coat and stethoscope, Alma says she was invited to appear as the Emergency Poet at ‘schools, hospitals and festivals all over the place, but I’m a middle-aged woman and I’m getting a bit old for driving around.’ …

“The [pharmacy’s] mortgage was approved [in January], and Alma is buzzing with plans for how the shop will be divided like a pharmacy ‘into areas for particular ailments.’ … The sections will be set up along the lines of a poetry anthology she edited in 2016, The Everyday Poet, which was split into poems ‘addressing areas of emotional need’ such as love, ageing, grief and hope. …

“ ‘I think probably more than any other art it speaks directly as though from one person to another,’ says Alma, who published her own first collection, Dirty Laundry, last year. ‘It’s intimate and it’s empathetic. It can be a prayer or a curse, or something just to hang on to.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. I’m glad to know something more about Shropshire poets beyond “The Shropshire Lad,” which I know only by reputation.

Hat tip: Wisconsin poet Ronnie Hess on Facebook.

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