National Poetry Day: “Reading enables us to visit faraway places, and to experience completely different views of the world”
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Ashtead editor Ana Sampson reveals how poetry can help improve mental health
As lockdown descended across the country earlier this year, many of us found comfort and a kind of freedom in our bookshelves. A quarter of readers reported buying more books than before – aided by some of Surrey’s wonderful independent bookshops, such as The Haslemere Bookshop, supplying readers with stories by post.
I may have been confined to barracks in Ashtead but, in fact, I spent time in locations as far-flung as Tudor England and – since the children were home and needed entertaining too – Narnia.
Reading enables us to visit faraway places, and to experience completely different views of the world. We can broaden our horizons and expand our knowledge of our fellow humans without leaving the sofa. Flexing our imaginations means it’s a better mental workout than watching a story unfold on screen – there’s no CGI wizardry that can match up to what our minds can conjure.
In spring I was in the final stages of editing my seventh poetry anthology. She Will Soar gathers poems of freedom, escape and wanderlust written by women over the past two thousand years. It was a theme that suddenly took on a startling new resonance as the nation battened down the hatches and dug in at home.
In the course of my research, poets whisked me off to the Blue Ridge Mountains, to a golden afternoon in Venice, to the suddenly inaccessible South Downs and over Chinese mountain passes. They sent me spinning across the sea, hurtling through the desert and winding through the woods. I saw the Statue of Liberty rise from the water. I rowed across a tranquil loch, and orbited the Hubble Space Telescope. I undertook impossible travels, too, into the Underworld and onto enchanted islands.
This year the theme of National Poetry Day on October 1 is ‘vision’ and She Will Soar has been chosen as one of their selected volumes. I am incredibly grateful to all the writers who have enabled me to see the world – as well as realms imagined and times passed – through their writing this year. I’ll keep on travelling by book whenever I get the opportunity, and I recommend it highly to all!
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She Will Soar: Brave, Brave Poems about Escape and Freedom by Women, edited by Ana Sampson is published by Macmillan and is out now.