Abbie Headon has surveyed eight centuries of verse to prove that poetry really is the answer to almost anything.
By day she is managing editor for Summersdale Publishers in West Street, Chichester; now she has added her very own book to their catalogue.
Abbie will be launching her Poetry First Aid Kit (£9.99; ISBN: 9781849534659) at Blackwell’s bookshop in Portsmouth between 5 and 7pm on September 4, a free event. No need to book. Just turn up.
The book comes with the subtitle Poems for Everyday Dilemmas, Decisions and Emergencies.
Whether your quandary is something as simple as what to have for dinner or you are trying to make a life-changing decision, Abbie (38), is sure that poetry will generally point you in the right direction.
“I had heard the phrase that poetry can save your life. As I work for a publisher that makes gift and humour titles, it came to me that it would be a great idea to have a poetry first aid kit.
“Poetry can certainly help in difficult times. It can contain a lot of emotion and a lot of very strong imagery in a very contained space. If you read a novel, it can take 300 pages for a situation to develop and to reach a resolution. In poetry that can happen in 16-20 lines. It is much more intense.”
For some people, just the word poetry can be a barrier in itself, something inaccessible and difficult. But Abbie makes the point that most people know whole pop songs by heart: “And I really don’t see the difference. It is hard to say what is good and what is bad, and you could say that there is more artistry in some lyrics than others, but I still think that the point of any art form is what it communicates to you.”
Which is why it’s important not to get too bogged down in analysis of ABAB rhyming schemes; listen instead to what the poetry says: “I should say I am definitely not a professional. I studied music and have worked in publishing and English teaching. When I was compiling this book, I was looking simply for poems that appealed to me.”
In doing so, she found poems that look at the very biggest questions, such as the meaning of life; others are sillier, such as whether or not to lock the bathroom door (the poem says yes, by the way).
“Sometimes the poems give you the answer, but sometimes they can just understand the predicament that you are in. In the book there is a mixture of poems offering solutions and poems that just say ‘I am with you.’”
A classic in the latter category is Robert Burns on toothache: “If it is so bad, you might think that no one else has ever suffered in the way you are suffering, but if you read this, you will see that somebody else in the universe has known exactly that agony, and sometimes that might make you feel better!”
If you and your partner have quarrelled and fear that the end is nigh, your recourse, Abbie suggests, might just be Katherine Mansfield in a piece where the wider world puts into perspective the squabbles.
“The message of the poem is to stop worrying and see the wider consequences and the beauty of the world and remember why you love each other!”
And while it won’t offer any solutions, Thomas Hood will remind you that – with little children around – you definitely aren’t the only person in the world incapable of having two uninterrupted thoughts.
Abbie’s Ode to the Chichester Observer
One of the books that I loved as a child
Contained nursery rhymes with themes strange and wild;
Of cats in sacks and blackbirds in pies,
Of giants and beanstalks of incredible size.
From these early beginnings, I read and I read –
On the bus – in the car – sprawled out flat on my bed –
And I lived in the stories laid out on the page,
And found hope and adventure and wonder and rage.
So now I’ve created a book of my own
And I hope that its contents won’t make people groan.
But I never imagined one day I’d deserve a
Feature in Chichester’s famous Observer.