How art and poetry can help people deal with challenging times

Lifestyle January 29, 2018



How art and poetry can help people deal with challenging times

(StatePoint)  – Whether you are dealing with personal tragedy and loss in your life, or are concerned about current events, some experts believe that creating and appreciating art can help you cope with the emotional fallout of challenging times.

“Art and poetry can be a beautifully effective outlet for dealing with tragedy or loss,” says J. Chester Johnson, a critically-acclaimed poet, essayist and translator of over four decades and author of the recently published book, “Now And Then: Selected Longer Poems.”

Johnson, who worked on Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and was a regular volunteer in the months following 9/11 at St. Paul’s Chapel (the Ground Zero relief center for recovery workers), wrote the iconic poem “St. Paul’s Chapel,” published worldwide, about endurance in the face of terror. His poem remains the memento card for the thousands of weekly visitors to the Chapel that survived the 9/11 terrorists’ attacks at Ground Zero, and more than a million poem cards have been distributed to-date.

When one needs hope and healing, here are some ways you may find it through creativity and art.

• Art therapy is a common treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, adverse physical health conditions or psychological impairment. The creative process often gives patients an opportunity to explore feelings and develop self-awareness.

• For those dealing with trauma, depression or other crises, keeping a journal is a way to regularly connect with one’s feelings. It also offers opportunities to be creative through verse, which Johnson says can be beneficial. “Acts of violence and mayhem often result in words being produced that describe, give solace or inspire,” he says.

• When your mind is racing or you feel anxious, consider picking up an art project that allows you to relax. Whether it’s knitting a scarf or simply coloring, such activities can allow your mind to take on a meditative state.

“Acts of violence and mayhem often result in words and art being produced that describe, give solace, or inspire,” says Johnson. “Poems occur where things happen and that’s where many people find comfort and assurance when dealing with challenging experiences.”

And when such challenging experiences as natural disasters or terror attacks are experienced by many people, the sharing of comforting words and images often becomes widespread. “After 9/11, poems by W. H. Auden and Galway Kinnell that touched the depth of the responsive feeling to the terrorists’ attacks, circulated over the Internet,” points out Johnson. “At that time, my ‘St. Paul’s Chapel’ was also posted on many websites, sent from friend to friend and appeared on many a refrigerator door.”

More information about Johnson and his poetry is available at, which offers details on his new book, “Auden, the Psalms, and Me,” a memoir and literary and historical commentary on the retranslation of the Psalms for the Episcopal Church.

If you are facing a personal or public crisis and are looking for ways to cope with loss or trauma, consider how you may heal through art, poetry and creative expression.

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