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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

Rich Ambiguity (on Poetry Therapy)

Whichever way up you look at it (thanks to for this lovely bit of black and white Ambiguity).

Out of very little, quite profound realisations can occur through writing: with only a couple of words to start off, you might find yourself epiph-ing all over the place (that’s a variation on ‘having an epiphany’).

Although it’s just as likely that with creative, expressive or reflective writing, you’ll find yourself with a whole load more questions to contemplate. And there’s nothing wrong with questions, like Tardis Russian Dolls, begetting more questions.

I was heartened to see part of this quote from Rilke, at the beginning of Gillie Bolton’s ‘Reflective Practice’:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

It’s one I read at my brother’s wedding (along with something by the excellent, fiery Jeanette Winterson) – and one that celebrates ambiguity, questioning and uncertainty, but also presence in the moment.

While much public commentary seems to shy away from, err, shades of grey (no, not that kind, thanks), seeking certainties, stats and binaries, ambiguity and uncertainty are rich, open spaces where we can learn more about ourselves and our worlds. Things are rarely – I would say never – black or white. But the black and white text of poetry on a page – and carried from the page by voices – can enable the exploration of our boundaries and values at any moment.

For me, poetry is the best artistic medium for this – and the title of this post comes from a quality that those working in Poetry Therapy seek in workshop texts. During our Poetry Therapy session, we spent a great deal of time as a group talking about some relatively-short poems, but in which there was a vast amount of space to explore.

A good poem should be a climbing frame: open, spacious, with room to play and multiple ways to clamber upon it. More than any other type of text, poetry is structural, sculptural, something you can move around 360 degrees and each time gain a new perspective. And if therapy is about anything, it’s gaining new perspectives…

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