by Julia Sorensen

It’s overly romantic to posit art as a cure-all for emotional turmoil—and by art I mean everything from visual art to theatre, poetry to music to dance, the sounds of intentionally weighted microphones swinging back and forth over an amplifier to dreamy, scrap metal giraffes. We’ve curated a panel called ‘Poems to Heal the Soul’, but the title is meant to be more catchy than it is honest. Poetry certainly contributes to soul-healing, but it rolls up its sleeves to work alongside time and active effort and grief cycles and critical self-reflection and therapy. Healing and recovery is a big-picture process that, because of how delightfully often life introduces despair, doesn’t have a tidy conclusion.

When we talk about ‘healing and recovery’ as a festival theme at PTBO, we’re certainly considering the importance of processing Covid-19. We’ve all felt its repercussions over the last two years, potentially now more than ever with what feels like endlessly rising case numbers. But pandemic traumas great and small are not the only things we want to address. Integral to life are cycles of hurt and healing, whether it be from processes of life, processes of loss, institutional injustice, abuse, or the simply ubiquitous and devastating feeling of heartbreak.

Poetry is no cure-all, but it is a space that we can visit to move through difficult feelings. Poetry is the aspect of language that gets closest to allowing us to articulate indescribable experiences. It sits on the heart, in the bottom of the belly, embodying affect as best as language can. It inspires comprehension in ways that reasonable and rational explanation cannot, and in that way, can help us (alongside time and active effort and grief cycles and critical self-reflection and therapy) to process, to consider, to feel, to heal.

I’ve had some level of poetic practice since I was a kid. During one of the more difficult periods of my life, I developed a sort of poetic mantra after the title of a novel by Madeleine Thien. For years, it wasn’t something I ever wrote down. A while after I came up with it—or it came up to meet me—I forgot about it, but somehow it’s sat in my memory. It came back to me recently when I was trying to find a way to help a friend move through through some difficult feelings. Their appreciation was palpable, and it was a reminder that my poetry has purpose, which was potentially more healing a realisation than the mantra itself has been for me personally. So, in the case that it may move you:

Do not say we have nothing.

We are always going;

we are always working toward something;

we are never alone;

we are always present.

Destitution is not an end-point; it is a pit stop

Do not say we have nothing.

We will lose things. We will have missing pieces

but we will fill the holes and

we will not be weaker because of them.


Photo credits to Sebastian Reinke.