“Poetry is good for your health” Patterson states in her article in The Independent (online edition) – but then again you’ve known that for a while.
· A recent study in the journal Psychological Reports, suggested that writing poetry boosted levels of secretory immunoglobin A.
· Another, undertaken by a consultant at Bristol Royal Infirmary, concluded that poetry enabled seven per cent of mental health patients to be weaned off their anti-depressants.
· Poetry, it seems, is not the new rock'n'roll, but the new Prozac.
But writing it is not necessarily beneficial for poets:
“Many poets - a higher proportion, apparently, than of the average population - are not so lucky. John Clare, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell and, most famously, Sylvia Plath, all knew the torments of a mind that would, on occasion, burst out of the crucible of what Freud called "normal human misery" into the nameless horrors of mania. The mad poet may be a cliché, but it is not a myth. Poets continue to write of their experiences of mental illness. If poetry is some kind of wonder-drug, it sure ain't working for them.”
So who’s forwarding theories like the ones above? According to Patterson it’s the arts administrators and they're doing it for money. (Of course it’s all for a good cause.) But in order to get the money, they need to go to the funders with evidence via studies that support their assertions. How much of this “research” is “anecdote masquerading as science” depends on which side of the fence your on I guess.
Patterson concludes with the following: “There is, in the right hands, a fine role for poetry as social work, but let's not pretend that it's the same as poetry as art. Poetry, like all art, is not a panacea. Perhaps it's more like homeopathy. A great placebo - some people swear by it - but the studies are inconclusive.”