full transcript

From the Ted Talk by William Sieghart: The connective potential of poetry

Unscramble the Blue Letters

I discovered poetry, like a lot of pelope do, at a time of gerat need in my life. I was eight years old, and my parents had sent me to boarding school - in that strange British hibat of sending a child to the other side of the country to a place where no one loved them. I was small, I was lonely, and I was scared, and I was sorht of friends. But I found one thing that the school seemed to think I could do well, and that was reading poetry. And poetry became my friend. And as I grew older and went to secondary school, I continued to read poetry and started to learn poems by heart just as a thing to do, a way of passing the time, finillg the boredom that used to exist in the pre-internet world. When I was 23, I was about to csros the clwroeml Road, a busy three-lane, or six-lane, highway in London. And as the lights tunerd red, the man standing next to me seeptpd into the road. But a car decided to jump the lthigs. I can still hear and see just exactly what happened. It was the most disturbing thing that ever happened to me as I saw this body flying in the air and landing on the tarmac. llcuiky, in the crwod next to me was a first aider, and he grabbed me by the elbow and amazingly, mganaed to get this man, who had no psule, back to life again - his heart was beating. Moments later, an ambulance came, he was gone, the police took my sentmtaet, and I was back standing where I had begun, by the red light, with the only evidence of this extraordinary traumatic event being the blood that was on my hands. Luckily, I'd been learning a poem by Philip Larkin, called 'Ambulances'. And it's about that moment when you see an ambulance pull up on your street to take one of your neighbours away for possibly the very fainl time, and you 'Sense the solving emtiepsns That lies just under everything we do, And for a moment, get it whole, So pnemraent and blnak and true. The fastened doors rceede. Poor soul, You wishepr at your own distress; For borne away in deadened air May go the sudden shut of loss Round something nearly at an end ... the [unique] random blend Of filmieas and fashions, there At last begin to loosen ... inside a room The traffic paths to let go by Brings closer what is left to come, And dulls to distance all we are.' Now, those words and the rather large gin and toinc I bought in the pub helped me prosces what, as I said, had been the most disturbing event that had ever happened in my life. And I realized, in retrospect, that that was the first time the poetry pharmacy had come in my life. I was, as they'd say in the modern pacrlane, 'self-medicating' with poetry. yaers later I started my own psbilnihug business, and then the Foreword Prizes for Poetry, and finally, after that, naiantol Poetry Day. And I spent a lifetime trying to get poetry out of poetry corner and maybe made the croenr a teney bit bigger. Then the oimypcls came. I don't know whether any of you saw the Olympics in 2012 in London, but the Olympic Park was strangely like a little piece of Dubai nestling in East lodnon. Everything was new. It didn't really have a sesne of place. And I read that the Arts Council were paying for ialdsns to be dragged round Cornwall - all kidns of strange artistic evtens - but there'd been no place for poetry in the Olympics. And for those of you who know the orgiianl Olympics, invented by the ancient Greeks, they had two stadia - one for the atlteehs and one for the poets. Now, I wasn't going to be able to persuade the British Olympic authorities to build a sdautim for the poets, but I was at least able to persuade them to fill the Olympic Park with poetry. And what was so interesting is that we commissioned some of the nation's greatest poets, and the poetry that they wrote was all about what had been there before: the bitrsih boys' boxing club, the Bryant & May match factory. Poetry is all about continuity. And we did a competition with the BBC on what piece of poetry should be on the athlete's wall, the wall that sat between the Olympic Village and the stadium, where all the athletic events were performed. And we chose the last lines of Tennyson's poem Ulysses: 'To srtvie, to seek, to find, and not to yield.' And with that, I made a little anthology with fbear and Faber of inspiring poems for the Olympics. And I did as writers do. I got on the road, and I started taking this book to festivals and so forth. And one day, a grand fneird of mine called Jenny Dyson said, 'I am programming a literary festival in Cornwall, Port Elliott. You're always sendnig poetry to cheer me up at difficult times, so I'm setting you up to be interviewed, but afterwards, I'm putting you in a tent with two armchairs, and I'm making you a prescription pad. I've designed it for you. And you're going to listen to people's problems. Bring photocopies of every poem you can think of that might help them.' And I thought, 'Okay.' And I turned up with my sack full of pteroy, and I sat in my tent, thinking I'll be there for an hour or two. Six hours later, with a very, very full bladder, I popped my head outside the tent and saw the blackboard was full, and I was booked not just for the rest of the day but for the day after as well. And my poetry pharmacy had begun. A week later, I got a tponeelhe call from the BBC, asking me if I'd go on Radio 4 on their Saturday morning magazine show. And as the program developed, the producer looked at me wide-eyed and said, 'I've never received so many emails for this program before.' People wanted prescriptions for every kind of anxiety. And they said, 'Would you come back at Christmas? Because I know how challenging Christmas can be for lots of people.' And that I did. And then one day, I found myself sitting next to a woman at a dinner table in London, and I was puffing away on my vape. And she said to me, 'God, I need one of those because I've taken up smoking again.' And perhaps inappropriately - definitely inappropriately because I'd probably had a drink or two - I said, 'Why? Because you hate your hsuanbd?' (Laughter) And she grabbed me by the arm and said, 'How did you know?' (Laughter) I said, 'I'm so sorry. I've been listening to people's problems all day, and I think I'm just acutely sensitive to this.' And she said, 'Are you a sinhrk?' I said, 'No, no, but this is what I do, and I do it with poems.' And she said, 'Oh my god, there's a book in this.' And so that's how my journey centiunod. I was asked, then, by the British gemrnoenvt if I would do a review of the public library system in the UK. And I decided, as I began, that I would not want to turn up as the government inspector in library after library, so I offered to do a pharcamy in every library I visited. And over a two-year period, I leetisnd to over 1,000 people's problems in all ptars of Britain. And I learned something absolutely eoxarnitrdray in this humbling experience. First of all, that people were prepared to open their herat to a complete stranger. But secondly, whether I was in the mental health unit in lpvrooiel or in leafy knsignteon in a lbrriay, we all have the same problems. And rather like a dtocor, though I don't claim to be one, who will tell you that in their wiaitng room all week, they get pretty much the same things over and over again, our problems on the whole could be reduced to pretty much the same smlal group of aietinxes. And that's what I've senpt my time trying to find prescriptions for. And do you know what the biggest atxieny is of all? Loneliness. Isn't that strange? We live in a world where we have more platforms to communicate to each other than ever before, but we're lonelier than we've ever been. And why? Because of this. You know it and I know it. But what was so startling talking to everybody around the country was how damaging and deouagnrs this device has become. People are living in a wrlod of soaicl media, where they're not putting them real selves up on it; they're putting a kind of avatar. Nobody is really saying on social media, 'I'm lonely', 'I'm miserable', 'I need a friend', 'I need a hug.' This is full of likes and parties and holidays and everything you'd like the world to think you as being, but you know full well it's not you. And yet strangely, you're iaacpblne of seeing through everybody else. I found two lines of poetry written 700 years ago by a Persian poet from Shiraz, called Hafez, which is my prescription for loneliness: 'I wish I could show you, when you're lonely or in daenkrss, the asnsiothnig light of your own being.' And I print it out, and I give it to people. I say, 'Learn it off by heart. Stick it on your morirr.' And last year, I got the most moving email from a lady, who said, 'You won't remember me, but I came to one of your pharmacies. And last night I came home to my flat, and it had been burgled. And in that shocking way in which burglars bhaeve, my flat had been completely reascaknd. Those two liens of poetry was still on my mirror. They were the only things that hadn't moved. Thank you', she said. 'It got me through the night.' As well as loneliness, perhaps the other big issue that comes my way is lack of courage. We're all so full of fear and nendieg a little bit of impetus. And one of my favourite prescriptions that I discovered came from a French poet, Apollinaire, adapted by an enligsh poet who died last year, Christopher lguoe, who was Private Eye's E. J. Thribb, amongst other guises. And it goes like this: 'Come to the edge. It's too high! Come to the edge. I'm too scared. Come to the edge! And they came, And they pushed, And they flew.' We live in an increasingly sleaucr sceitoy. We don't cmumnoe in the way we used to. But I'm increasingly aawre that the canon of poetry is becoming the secular lritguy. It's something that we are sharing with each other via social mieda. It's why poetry book sales are booming every year. And it's our way of holding hands with each other, it's our way of connecting, and it's our way of giving a genuine sense of continuity with the past. Life is so frenzied and so frazzled, there's something incredibly reassuring to find somebody expressing how you feel rather more elegantly than you can express yourself. And when you dscoeivr it was written 700 years ago, you realize you're not alone, you're not mad, that people have always felt like this. And it normalizes the difficulties and anxieties that are going through your mind. The other day, I was doing a poetry pharmacy in London. And it was in a sort of co-working place, and I was doing sessions with people working there. And halfway through, the security guard came in and said to me, 'Your 3:30 is cancelled.' I said, 'Fine. That's okay.' And then he said, 'Can I take their pacle?' 'Of course', I said. 'Please come and sit down. What's on your mind?' I said. He said, 'I'm 31. When I was 23, I came out, but I still haven't had a relationship yet.' 'That's really sad', I said. 'What do you think that's about?' He said, 'I think it's because, although I'm a kind posern and a loving person and I would be great comnapy and I would be suitppvore, I'm Muslim and I'm gay. And I don't believe I can be both.' I said, 'I think you've got that wrong.' If we go back to that extraordinary poet Hafez, 700 years ago, the grestaet Sufi mystic of his time, he wrote: 'It happens all the time in heaven, And one day It will happen Again on earth - That men and women who are married, And men and men who are Lovers, And women and women Who give each other Light, Will get down on bended knee With tears in their eyes And say to their levod one, My dear, How can I be more loving to you? My darling, How can I be more kind?' He got out of his chair, tears streaming down his cheeks, and gave me a big bear hug. Now he's dating. There is without doubt something utterly cleplimnog about the pewor of poetry. And I have to say when I'm lucky enough to be a cipher, to find something like that to give to somebody in that situation and to see them get out of the ciahr seemingly a foot taller, I feel very blessed. I think what, also, I find so extraordinary and so reassuring is how these words have passed through the centuries and how, in a way, our lives and our difficulties are fdnnmualealty always the same. So what I'd been here to tell you today is a sense that, in my belief, poetry can save your life. I believe there's a poem for every single hmaun anxiety ever created - there are many, many of them. And if you find that poem, just like Alan Bennett put it: 'It's as though a hand has come out and taken yours.' And that is an extraordinary, extraordinary blessing. Thank you (Applause)

Open Cloze

I discovered poetry, like a lot of ______ do, at a time of _____ need in my life. I was eight years old, and my parents had sent me to boarding school - in that strange British _____ of sending a child to the other side of the country to a place where no one loved them. I was small, I was lonely, and I was scared, and I was _____ of friends. But I found one thing that the school seemed to think I could do well, and that was reading poetry. And poetry became my friend. And as I grew older and went to secondary school, I continued to read poetry and started to learn poems by heart just as a thing to do, a way of passing the time, _______ the boredom that used to exist in the pre-internet world. When I was 23, I was about to _____ the ________ Road, a busy three-lane, or six-lane, highway in London. And as the lights ______ red, the man standing next to me _______ into the road. But a car decided to jump the ______. I can still hear and see just exactly what happened. It was the most disturbing thing that ever happened to me as I saw this body flying in the air and landing on the tarmac. _______, in the _____ next to me was a first aider, and he grabbed me by the elbow and amazingly, _______ to get this man, who had no _____, back to life again - his heart was beating. Moments later, an ambulance came, he was gone, the police took my _________, and I was back standing where I had begun, by the red light, with the only evidence of this extraordinary traumatic event being the blood that was on my hands. Luckily, I'd been learning a poem by Philip Larkin, called 'Ambulances'. And it's about that moment when you see an ambulance pull up on your street to take one of your neighbours away for possibly the very _____ time, and you 'Sense the solving _________ That lies just under everything we do, And for a moment, get it whole, So _________ and _____ and true. The fastened doors ______. Poor soul, You _______ at your own distress; For borne away in deadened air May go the sudden shut of loss Round something nearly at an end ... the [unique] random blend Of ________ and fashions, there At last begin to loosen ... inside a room The traffic paths to let go by Brings closer what is left to come, And dulls to distance all we are.' Now, those words and the rather large gin and _____ I bought in the pub helped me _______ what, as I said, had been the most disturbing event that had ever happened in my life. And I realized, in retrospect, that that was the first time the poetry pharmacy had come in my life. I was, as they'd say in the modern ________, 'self-medicating' with poetry. _____ later I started my own __________ business, and then the Foreword Prizes for Poetry, and finally, after that, ________ Poetry Day. And I spent a lifetime trying to get poetry out of poetry corner and maybe made the ______ a _____ bit bigger. Then the ________ came. I don't know whether any of you saw the Olympics in 2012 in London, but the Olympic Park was strangely like a little piece of Dubai nestling in East ______. Everything was new. It didn't really have a _____ of place. And I read that the Arts Council were paying for _______ to be dragged round Cornwall - all _____ of strange artistic ______ - but there'd been no place for poetry in the Olympics. And for those of you who know the ________ Olympics, invented by the ancient Greeks, they had two stadia - one for the ________ and one for the poets. Now, I wasn't going to be able to persuade the British Olympic authorities to build a _______ for the poets, but I was at least able to persuade them to fill the Olympic Park with poetry. And what was so interesting is that we commissioned some of the nation's greatest poets, and the poetry that they wrote was all about what had been there before: the _______ boys' boxing club, the Bryant & May match factory. Poetry is all about continuity. And we did a competition with the BBC on what piece of poetry should be on the athlete's wall, the wall that sat between the Olympic Village and the stadium, where all the athletic events were performed. And we chose the last lines of Tennyson's poem Ulysses: 'To ______, to seek, to find, and not to yield.' And with that, I made a little anthology with _____ and Faber of inspiring poems for the Olympics. And I did as writers do. I got on the road, and I started taking this book to festivals and so forth. And one day, a grand ______ of mine called Jenny Dyson said, 'I am programming a literary festival in Cornwall, Port Elliott. You're always _______ poetry to cheer me up at difficult times, so I'm setting you up to be interviewed, but afterwards, I'm putting you in a tent with two armchairs, and I'm making you a prescription pad. I've designed it for you. And you're going to listen to people's problems. Bring photocopies of every poem you can think of that might help them.' And I thought, 'Okay.' And I turned up with my sack full of ______, and I sat in my tent, thinking I'll be there for an hour or two. Six hours later, with a very, very full bladder, I popped my head outside the tent and saw the blackboard was full, and I was booked not just for the rest of the day but for the day after as well. And my poetry pharmacy had begun. A week later, I got a _________ call from the BBC, asking me if I'd go on Radio 4 on their Saturday morning magazine show. And as the program developed, the producer looked at me wide-eyed and said, 'I've never received so many emails for this program before.' People wanted prescriptions for every kind of anxiety. And they said, 'Would you come back at Christmas? Because I know how challenging Christmas can be for lots of people.' And that I did. And then one day, I found myself sitting next to a woman at a dinner table in London, and I was puffing away on my vape. And she said to me, 'God, I need one of those because I've taken up smoking again.' And perhaps inappropriately - definitely inappropriately because I'd probably had a drink or two - I said, 'Why? Because you hate your _______?' (Laughter) And she grabbed me by the arm and said, 'How did you know?' (Laughter) I said, 'I'm so sorry. I've been listening to people's problems all day, and I think I'm just acutely sensitive to this.' And she said, 'Are you a ______?' I said, 'No, no, but this is what I do, and I do it with poems.' And she said, 'Oh my god, there's a book in this.' And so that's how my journey _________. I was asked, then, by the British __________ if I would do a review of the public library system in the UK. And I decided, as I began, that I would not want to turn up as the government inspector in library after library, so I offered to do a ________ in every library I visited. And over a two-year period, I ________ to over 1,000 people's problems in all _____ of Britain. And I learned something absolutely _____________ in this humbling experience. First of all, that people were prepared to open their _____ to a complete stranger. But secondly, whether I was in the mental health unit in _________ or in leafy __________ in a _______, we all have the same problems. And rather like a ______, though I don't claim to be one, who will tell you that in their _______ room all week, they get pretty much the same things over and over again, our problems on the whole could be reduced to pretty much the same _____ group of _________. And that's what I've _____ my time trying to find prescriptions for. And do you know what the biggest _______ is of all? Loneliness. Isn't that strange? We live in a world where we have more platforms to communicate to each other than ever before, but we're lonelier than we've ever been. And why? Because of this. You know it and I know it. But what was so startling talking to everybody around the country was how damaging and _________ this device has become. People are living in a _____ of ______ media, where they're not putting them real selves up on it; they're putting a kind of avatar. Nobody is really saying on social media, 'I'm lonely', 'I'm miserable', 'I need a friend', 'I need a hug.' This is full of likes and parties and holidays and everything you'd like the world to think you as being, but you know full well it's not you. And yet strangely, you're _________ of seeing through everybody else. I found two lines of poetry written 700 years ago by a Persian poet from Shiraz, called Hafez, which is my prescription for loneliness: 'I wish I could show you, when you're lonely or in ________, the ___________ light of your own being.' And I print it out, and I give it to people. I say, 'Learn it off by heart. Stick it on your ______.' And last year, I got the most moving email from a lady, who said, 'You won't remember me, but I came to one of your pharmacies. And last night I came home to my flat, and it had been burgled. And in that shocking way in which burglars ______, my flat had been completely _________. Those two _____ of poetry was still on my mirror. They were the only things that hadn't moved. Thank you', she said. 'It got me through the night.' As well as loneliness, perhaps the other big issue that comes my way is lack of courage. We're all so full of fear and _______ a little bit of impetus. And one of my favourite prescriptions that I discovered came from a French poet, Apollinaire, adapted by an _______ poet who died last year, Christopher _____, who was Private Eye's E. J. Thribb, amongst other guises. And it goes like this: 'Come to the edge. It's too high! Come to the edge. I'm too scared. Come to the edge! And they came, And they pushed, And they flew.' We live in an increasingly _______ _______. We don't _______ in the way we used to. But I'm increasingly _____ that the canon of poetry is becoming the secular _______. It's something that we are sharing with each other via social _____. It's why poetry book sales are booming every year. And it's our way of holding hands with each other, it's our way of connecting, and it's our way of giving a genuine sense of continuity with the past. Life is so frenzied and so frazzled, there's something incredibly reassuring to find somebody expressing how you feel rather more elegantly than you can express yourself. And when you ________ it was written 700 years ago, you realize you're not alone, you're not mad, that people have always felt like this. And it normalizes the difficulties and anxieties that are going through your mind. The other day, I was doing a poetry pharmacy in London. And it was in a sort of co-working place, and I was doing sessions with people working there. And halfway through, the security guard came in and said to me, 'Your 3:30 is cancelled.' I said, 'Fine. That's okay.' And then he said, 'Can I take their _____?' 'Of course', I said. 'Please come and sit down. What's on your mind?' I said. He said, 'I'm 31. When I was 23, I came out, but I still haven't had a relationship yet.' 'That's really sad', I said. 'What do you think that's about?' He said, 'I think it's because, although I'm a kind ______ and a loving person and I would be great _______ and I would be __________, I'm Muslim and I'm gay. And I don't believe I can be both.' I said, 'I think you've got that wrong.' If we go back to that extraordinary poet Hafez, 700 years ago, the ________ Sufi mystic of his time, he wrote: 'It happens all the time in heaven, And one day It will happen Again on earth - That men and women who are married, And men and men who are Lovers, And women and women Who give each other Light, Will get down on bended knee With tears in their eyes And say to their _____ one, My dear, How can I be more loving to you? My darling, How can I be more kind?' He got out of his chair, tears streaming down his cheeks, and gave me a big bear hug. Now he's dating. There is without doubt something utterly __________ about the _____ of poetry. And I have to say when I'm lucky enough to be a cipher, to find something like that to give to somebody in that situation and to see them get out of the _____ seemingly a foot taller, I feel very blessed. I think what, also, I find so extraordinary and so reassuring is how these words have passed through the centuries and how, in a way, our lives and our difficulties are _____________ always the same. So what I'd been here to tell you today is a sense that, in my belief, poetry can save your life. I believe there's a poem for every single _____ anxiety ever created - there are many, many of them. And if you find that poem, just like Alan Bennett put it: 'It's as though a hand has come out and taken yours.' And that is an extraordinary, extraordinary blessing. Thank you (Applause)

Solution

  1. lights
  2. process
  3. husband
  4. commune
  5. faber
  6. supportive
  7. needing
  8. families
  9. british
  10. power
  11. fundamentally
  12. spent
  13. english
  14. mirror
  15. cross
  16. telephone
  17. greatest
  18. dangerous
  19. permanent
  20. whisper
  21. liverpool
  22. logue
  23. events
  24. doctor
  25. darkness
  26. liturgy
  27. anxiety
  28. emptiness
  29. national
  30. stadium
  31. discover
  32. library
  33. kinds
  34. social
  35. parlance
  36. london
  37. kensington
  38. small
  39. shrink
  40. world
  41. years
  42. cromwell
  43. crowd
  44. poetry
  45. media
  46. friend
  47. aware
  48. turned
  49. waiting
  50. publishing
  51. ransacked
  52. heart
  53. habit
  54. stepped
  55. incapable
  56. continued
  57. luckily
  58. compelling
  59. original
  60. final
  61. sending
  62. lines
  63. government
  64. pulse
  65. teeny
  66. extraordinary
  67. short
  68. strive
  69. great
  70. human
  71. behave
  72. secular
  73. listened
  74. loved
  75. olympics
  76. chair
  77. sense
  78. society
  79. tonic
  80. parts
  81. athletes
  82. blank
  83. statement
  84. islands
  85. person
  86. people
  87. place
  88. pharmacy
  89. recede
  90. filling
  91. anxieties
  92. astonishing
  93. managed
  94. company
  95. corner

Original Text

I discovered poetry, like a lot of people do, at a time of great need in my life. I was eight years old, and my parents had sent me to boarding school - in that strange British habit of sending a child to the other side of the country to a place where no one loved them. I was small, I was lonely, and I was scared, and I was short of friends. But I found one thing that the school seemed to think I could do well, and that was reading poetry. And poetry became my friend. And as I grew older and went to secondary school, I continued to read poetry and started to learn poems by heart just as a thing to do, a way of passing the time, filling the boredom that used to exist in the pre-internet world. When I was 23, I was about to cross the Cromwell Road, a busy three-lane, or six-lane, highway in London. And as the lights turned red, the man standing next to me stepped into the road. But a car decided to jump the lights. I can still hear and see just exactly what happened. It was the most disturbing thing that ever happened to me as I saw this body flying in the air and landing on the tarmac. Luckily, in the crowd next to me was a first aider, and he grabbed me by the elbow and amazingly, managed to get this man, who had no pulse, back to life again - his heart was beating. Moments later, an ambulance came, he was gone, the police took my statement, and I was back standing where I had begun, by the red light, with the only evidence of this extraordinary traumatic event being the blood that was on my hands. Luckily, I'd been learning a poem by Philip Larkin, called 'Ambulances'. And it's about that moment when you see an ambulance pull up on your street to take one of your neighbours away for possibly the very final time, and you 'Sense the solving emptiness That lies just under everything we do, And for a moment, get it whole, So permanent and blank and true. The fastened doors recede. Poor soul, You whisper at your own distress; For borne away in deadened air May go the sudden shut of loss Round something nearly at an end ... the [unique] random blend Of families and fashions, there At last begin to loosen ... inside a room The traffic paths to let go by Brings closer what is left to come, And dulls to distance all we are.' Now, those words and the rather large gin and tonic I bought in the pub helped me process what, as I said, had been the most disturbing event that had ever happened in my life. And I realized, in retrospect, that that was the first time the poetry pharmacy had come in my life. I was, as they'd say in the modern parlance, 'self-medicating' with poetry. Years later I started my own publishing business, and then the Foreword Prizes for Poetry, and finally, after that, National Poetry Day. And I spent a lifetime trying to get poetry out of poetry corner and maybe made the corner a teeny bit bigger. Then the Olympics came. I don't know whether any of you saw the Olympics in 2012 in London, but the Olympic Park was strangely like a little piece of Dubai nestling in East London. Everything was new. It didn't really have a sense of place. And I read that the Arts Council were paying for islands to be dragged round Cornwall - all kinds of strange artistic events - but there'd been no place for poetry in the Olympics. And for those of you who know the original Olympics, invented by the ancient Greeks, they had two stadia - one for the athletes and one for the poets. Now, I wasn't going to be able to persuade the British Olympic authorities to build a stadium for the poets, but I was at least able to persuade them to fill the Olympic Park with poetry. And what was so interesting is that we commissioned some of the nation's greatest poets, and the poetry that they wrote was all about what had been there before: the British boys' boxing club, the Bryant & May match factory. Poetry is all about continuity. And we did a competition with the BBC on what piece of poetry should be on the athlete's wall, the wall that sat between the Olympic Village and the stadium, where all the athletic events were performed. And we chose the last lines of Tennyson's poem Ulysses: 'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.' And with that, I made a little anthology with Faber and Faber of inspiring poems for the Olympics. And I did as writers do. I got on the road, and I started taking this book to festivals and so forth. And one day, a grand friend of mine called Jenny Dyson said, 'I am programming a literary festival in Cornwall, Port Elliott. You're always sending poetry to cheer me up at difficult times, so I'm setting you up to be interviewed, but afterwards, I'm putting you in a tent with two armchairs, and I'm making you a prescription pad. I've designed it for you. And you're going to listen to people's problems. Bring photocopies of every poem you can think of that might help them.' And I thought, 'Okay.' And I turned up with my sack full of poetry, and I sat in my tent, thinking I'll be there for an hour or two. Six hours later, with a very, very full bladder, I popped my head outside the tent and saw the blackboard was full, and I was booked not just for the rest of the day but for the day after as well. And my poetry pharmacy had begun. A week later, I got a telephone call from the BBC, asking me if I'd go on Radio 4 on their Saturday morning magazine show. And as the program developed, the producer looked at me wide-eyed and said, 'I've never received so many emails for this program before.' People wanted prescriptions for every kind of anxiety. And they said, 'Would you come back at Christmas? Because I know how challenging Christmas can be for lots of people.' And that I did. And then one day, I found myself sitting next to a woman at a dinner table in London, and I was puffing away on my vape. And she said to me, 'God, I need one of those because I've taken up smoking again.' And perhaps inappropriately - definitely inappropriately because I'd probably had a drink or two - I said, 'Why? Because you hate your husband?' (Laughter) And she grabbed me by the arm and said, 'How did you know?' (Laughter) I said, 'I'm so sorry. I've been listening to people's problems all day, and I think I'm just acutely sensitive to this.' And she said, 'Are you a shrink?' I said, 'No, no, but this is what I do, and I do it with poems.' And she said, 'Oh my god, there's a book in this.' And so that's how my journey continued. I was asked, then, by the British government if I would do a review of the public library system in the UK. And I decided, as I began, that I would not want to turn up as the government inspector in library after library, so I offered to do a pharmacy in every library I visited. And over a two-year period, I listened to over 1,000 people's problems in all parts of Britain. And I learned something absolutely extraordinary in this humbling experience. First of all, that people were prepared to open their heart to a complete stranger. But secondly, whether I was in the mental health unit in Liverpool or in leafy Kensington in a library, we all have the same problems. And rather like a doctor, though I don't claim to be one, who will tell you that in their waiting room all week, they get pretty much the same things over and over again, our problems on the whole could be reduced to pretty much the same small group of anxieties. And that's what I've spent my time trying to find prescriptions for. And do you know what the biggest anxiety is of all? Loneliness. Isn't that strange? We live in a world where we have more platforms to communicate to each other than ever before, but we're lonelier than we've ever been. And why? Because of this. You know it and I know it. But what was so startling talking to everybody around the country was how damaging and dangerous this device has become. People are living in a world of social media, where they're not putting them real selves up on it; they're putting a kind of avatar. Nobody is really saying on social media, 'I'm lonely', 'I'm miserable', 'I need a friend', 'I need a hug.' This is full of likes and parties and holidays and everything you'd like the world to think you as being, but you know full well it's not you. And yet strangely, you're incapable of seeing through everybody else. I found two lines of poetry written 700 years ago by a Persian poet from Shiraz, called Hafez, which is my prescription for loneliness: 'I wish I could show you, when you're lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.' And I print it out, and I give it to people. I say, 'Learn it off by heart. Stick it on your mirror.' And last year, I got the most moving email from a lady, who said, 'You won't remember me, but I came to one of your pharmacies. And last night I came home to my flat, and it had been burgled. And in that shocking way in which burglars behave, my flat had been completely ransacked. Those two lines of poetry was still on my mirror. They were the only things that hadn't moved. Thank you', she said. 'It got me through the night.' As well as loneliness, perhaps the other big issue that comes my way is lack of courage. We're all so full of fear and needing a little bit of impetus. And one of my favourite prescriptions that I discovered came from a French poet, Apollinaire, adapted by an English poet who died last year, Christopher Logue, who was Private Eye's E. J. Thribb, amongst other guises. And it goes like this: 'Come to the edge. It's too high! Come to the edge. I'm too scared. Come to the edge! And they came, And they pushed, And they flew.' We live in an increasingly secular society. We don't commune in the way we used to. But I'm increasingly aware that the canon of poetry is becoming the secular liturgy. It's something that we are sharing with each other via social media. It's why poetry book sales are booming every year. And it's our way of holding hands with each other, it's our way of connecting, and it's our way of giving a genuine sense of continuity with the past. Life is so frenzied and so frazzled, there's something incredibly reassuring to find somebody expressing how you feel rather more elegantly than you can express yourself. And when you discover it was written 700 years ago, you realize you're not alone, you're not mad, that people have always felt like this. And it normalizes the difficulties and anxieties that are going through your mind. The other day, I was doing a poetry pharmacy in London. And it was in a sort of co-working place, and I was doing sessions with people working there. And halfway through, the security guard came in and said to me, 'Your 3:30 is cancelled.' I said, 'Fine. That's okay.' And then he said, 'Can I take their place?' 'Of course', I said. 'Please come and sit down. What's on your mind?' I said. He said, 'I'm 31. When I was 23, I came out, but I still haven't had a relationship yet.' 'That's really sad', I said. 'What do you think that's about?' He said, 'I think it's because, although I'm a kind person and a loving person and I would be great company and I would be supportive, I'm Muslim and I'm gay. And I don't believe I can be both.' I said, 'I think you've got that wrong.' If we go back to that extraordinary poet Hafez, 700 years ago, the greatest Sufi mystic of his time, he wrote: 'It happens all the time in heaven, And one day It will happen Again on earth - That men and women who are married, And men and men who are Lovers, And women and women Who give each other Light, Will get down on bended knee With tears in their eyes And say to their loved one, My dear, How can I be more loving to you? My darling, How can I be more kind?' He got out of his chair, tears streaming down his cheeks, and gave me a big bear hug. Now he's dating. There is without doubt something utterly compelling about the power of poetry. And I have to say when I'm lucky enough to be a cipher, to find something like that to give to somebody in that situation and to see them get out of the chair seemingly a foot taller, I feel very blessed. I think what, also, I find so extraordinary and so reassuring is how these words have passed through the centuries and how, in a way, our lives and our difficulties are fundamentally always the same. So what I'd been here to tell you today is a sense that, in my belief, poetry can save your life. I believe there's a poem for every single human anxiety ever created - there are many, many of them. And if you find that poem, just like Alan Bennett put it: 'It's as though a hand has come out and taken yours.' And that is an extraordinary, extraordinary blessing. Thank you (Applause)

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
poetry pharmacy 3
olympic park 2

Important Words

  1. absolutely
  2. acutely
  3. adapted
  4. aider
  5. air
  6. alan
  7. amazingly
  8. ambulance
  9. ancient
  10. anthology
  11. anxieties
  12. anxiety
  13. apollinaire
  14. applause
  15. arm
  16. armchairs
  17. artistic
  18. arts
  19. asked
  20. astonishing
  21. athletes
  22. athletic
  23. authorities
  24. avatar
  25. aware
  26. bbc
  27. bear
  28. beating
  29. began
  30. begun
  31. behave
  32. belief
  33. bended
  34. bennett
  35. big
  36. bigger
  37. biggest
  38. bit
  39. blackboard
  40. bladder
  41. blank
  42. blend
  43. blessed
  44. blessing
  45. blood
  46. boarding
  47. body
  48. book
  49. booked
  50. booming
  51. boredom
  52. borne
  53. bought
  54. boxing
  55. bring
  56. brings
  57. britain
  58. british
  59. bryant
  60. build
  61. burglars
  62. burgled
  63. business
  64. busy
  65. call
  66. called
  67. cancelled
  68. canon
  69. car
  70. centuries
  71. chair
  72. challenging
  73. cheeks
  74. cheer
  75. child
  76. chose
  77. christmas
  78. christopher
  79. cipher
  80. claim
  81. closer
  82. club
  83. commissioned
  84. commune
  85. communicate
  86. company
  87. compelling
  88. competition
  89. complete
  90. completely
  91. connecting
  92. continued
  93. continuity
  94. corner
  95. cornwall
  96. council
  97. country
  98. courage
  99. created
  100. cromwell
  101. cross
  102. crowd
  103. damaging
  104. dangerous
  105. darkness
  106. darling
  107. dating
  108. day
  109. deadened
  110. dear
  111. decided
  112. designed
  113. developed
  114. device
  115. died
  116. difficult
  117. difficulties
  118. dinner
  119. discover
  120. discovered
  121. distance
  122. disturbing
  123. doctor
  124. doors
  125. doubt
  126. dragged
  127. drink
  128. dubai
  129. dulls
  130. dyson
  131. earth
  132. east
  133. edge
  134. elbow
  135. elegantly
  136. elliott
  137. email
  138. emails
  139. emptiness
  140. english
  141. event
  142. events
  143. evidence
  144. exist
  145. experience
  146. express
  147. expressing
  148. extraordinary
  149. eyes
  150. faber
  151. factory
  152. families
  153. fashions
  154. fastened
  155. favourite
  156. fear
  157. feel
  158. felt
  159. festival
  160. festivals
  161. fill
  162. filling
  163. final
  164. finally
  165. find
  166. flat
  167. flew
  168. flying
  169. foot
  170. foreword
  171. frazzled
  172. french
  173. frenzied
  174. friend
  175. friends
  176. full
  177. fundamentally
  178. gave
  179. gay
  180. genuine
  181. gin
  182. give
  183. giving
  184. god
  185. government
  186. grabbed
  187. grand
  188. great
  189. greatest
  190. greeks
  191. grew
  192. group
  193. guard
  194. guises
  195. habit
  196. hafez
  197. halfway
  198. hand
  199. hands
  200. happen
  201. happened
  202. hate
  203. head
  204. health
  205. hear
  206. heart
  207. heaven
  208. helped
  209. highway
  210. holding
  211. holidays
  212. home
  213. hour
  214. hours
  215. hug
  216. human
  217. humbling
  218. husband
  219. impetus
  220. inappropriately
  221. incapable
  222. increasingly
  223. incredibly
  224. inspector
  225. inspiring
  226. interesting
  227. interviewed
  228. invented
  229. islands
  230. issue
  231. jenny
  232. journey
  233. jump
  234. kensington
  235. kind
  236. kinds
  237. knee
  238. lack
  239. lady
  240. landing
  241. large
  242. larkin
  243. laughter
  244. leafy
  245. learn
  246. learned
  247. learning
  248. left
  249. library
  250. lies
  251. life
  252. lifetime
  253. light
  254. lights
  255. likes
  256. lines
  257. listen
  258. listened
  259. listening
  260. literary
  261. liturgy
  262. live
  263. liverpool
  264. lives
  265. living
  266. logue
  267. london
  268. lonelier
  269. loneliness
  270. lonely
  271. looked
  272. loosen
  273. loss
  274. lot
  275. lots
  276. loved
  277. lovers
  278. loving
  279. luckily
  280. lucky
  281. mad
  282. magazine
  283. making
  284. man
  285. managed
  286. married
  287. match
  288. media
  289. men
  290. mental
  291. mind
  292. mirror
  293. modern
  294. moment
  295. moments
  296. morning
  297. moved
  298. moving
  299. muslim
  300. mystic
  301. national
  302. needing
  303. neighbours
  304. nestling
  305. night
  306. normalizes
  307. offered
  308. older
  309. olympic
  310. olympics
  311. open
  312. original
  313. pad
  314. parents
  315. park
  316. parlance
  317. parties
  318. parts
  319. passed
  320. passing
  321. paths
  322. paying
  323. people
  324. performed
  325. period
  326. permanent
  327. persian
  328. person
  329. persuade
  330. pharmacies
  331. pharmacy
  332. philip
  333. photocopies
  334. piece
  335. place
  336. platforms
  337. poem
  338. poems
  339. poet
  340. poetry
  341. poets
  342. police
  343. poor
  344. popped
  345. port
  346. possibly
  347. power
  348. prepared
  349. prescription
  350. prescriptions
  351. pretty
  352. print
  353. private
  354. prizes
  355. problems
  356. process
  357. producer
  358. program
  359. programming
  360. pub
  361. public
  362. publishing
  363. puffing
  364. pull
  365. pulse
  366. pushed
  367. put
  368. putting
  369. radio
  370. random
  371. ransacked
  372. read
  373. reading
  374. real
  375. realize
  376. realized
  377. reassuring
  378. recede
  379. received
  380. red
  381. reduced
  382. relationship
  383. remember
  384. rest
  385. retrospect
  386. review
  387. road
  388. room
  389. sack
  390. sales
  391. sat
  392. saturday
  393. save
  394. scared
  395. school
  396. secondary
  397. secular
  398. security
  399. seek
  400. seemingly
  401. sending
  402. sense
  403. sensitive
  404. sessions
  405. setting
  406. sharing
  407. shiraz
  408. shocking
  409. short
  410. show
  411. shrink
  412. shut
  413. side
  414. single
  415. sit
  416. sitting
  417. situation
  418. small
  419. smoking
  420. social
  421. society
  422. solving
  423. sort
  424. soul
  425. spent
  426. stadia
  427. stadium
  428. standing
  429. started
  430. startling
  431. statement
  432. stepped
  433. stick
  434. strange
  435. strangely
  436. stranger
  437. streaming
  438. street
  439. strive
  440. sudden
  441. sufi
  442. supportive
  443. system
  444. table
  445. talking
  446. taller
  447. tarmac
  448. tears
  449. teeny
  450. telephone
  451. tent
  452. thinking
  453. thought
  454. thribb
  455. time
  456. times
  457. today
  458. tonic
  459. traffic
  460. traumatic
  461. true
  462. turn
  463. turned
  464. uk
  465. unique
  466. unit
  467. utterly
  468. vape
  469. village
  470. visited
  471. waiting
  472. wall
  473. wanted
  474. week
  475. whisper
  476. woman
  477. women
  478. words
  479. working
  480. world
  481. writers
  482. written
  483. wrong
  484. wrote
  485. year
  486. years
  487. yield