Why Doesn’t The Writing Cure Help Poets?

Here’s a fun study I came across today whilst not doing my real work.

The fundamental question: if expressive writing is supposed to be therapeutic, and if poets are some of the most expressive writers in the world, why are they so dang unhappy on the whole?

Here’s the direct link to a PDF file:

http://psychology.csusb.edu/facultystaff/docs/KaufmanSexton_why_doesnt_the_writing_cure_help_poets.pdf

And here’s the abstract:

This paper examines the literature on creative writing and mental illness and relates it to the “writing cure” research that shows that expressive writing improves health. There is an abundance of evidence that professional poets have poorer health outcomes relative to both other writers and to the population at large. Why doesn’t the writing cure help them? The formation of a narrative, an element often missing in poetry, may provide the answer. Other possible explanations are that poets may be more depressed to begin with and may be even worse off if they did not write. For female poets, they may be subject to stereotypic expectations about writing themes, which may put them at further risk. Those seeking improvements in health through writing are advised to adopt a narrative style.

I fancy myself a poet, so I dunno.  I’ve always imagined myself happier as a “real” poet with publication credits, a couple of books, maybe a grant or other award.  Didn’t seem to help Sylvia, though.  Maybe she needed a more narrative style.

Maybe, as the article asserts, I would feel worse if I didn’t have any connection to expressive art, if I were, say, an accountant or a bricklayer or a farmer.  I think farmer would be the worst choice, given my propensity for killing plants.  Having to get up and do the same thing every day would not be me.  I come from a family of dairy farmers, but I did not inherit the dairy farm work ethic.  (Maybe that’s why no one in my family farms any more.)  Accountant I could do.  I love me a good spreadsheet.  An accountant who writes villanelles.  Maybe there’s an Excel template for that.

Or maybe—

<sigh> Back to grading papers . . .

Sylvia Plath

Image via Wikipedia

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