Can Poetry Prevent Suicide?

This author thinks so and I concur. After all, my whole doctoral research was examining veteran poetry for signs of moral injury. The soul angst of war is real and shakes the foundations of one’s identity. It leads to questions like can I live with myself ? Am I really a good person? How can I look my family in the eyes? The list goes on and on.

Writing is one coping mechanism. And, it goes deeper than coping. It forces one to express their inferiority, examine who they really are in raw, naked form. It can be brutal, and, cathartic.

My road out of hell looks like something more than just one highlighted by interventions like therapy and prescription drugs. My path to healing began one night when I showed up for a poetry-writing workshop at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia.

She guided us with gentle words about how writing can help us know what we contain. Once we know that, she said, we can show ourselves to others and begin to heal.

It is fitting that Mnemosyne is a Titan, as well as considered the mother of the Muses (Hesiod, trans. 1914, ll. 53).  This fitting is two-fold. First, as Plato’s Phaedrus has said, it is the Muses who touch us with divine madness opening a channel to healing.  Second, as a Titan, she and her lineage were banished into the underworld for their chaotic, Titanic appetites: a fitting backdrop to war.  War as thunder, Zeus’ bolts, Apollo’s arrows, Ares’ blade slashing, a fight for survival first, morality second: a regression to the primal, unregulated aspects of psyche.  Mnemosyne is associated not only with memory, but with Lethe the water of forgetfulness (Pausanias, trans. 1918).  Who, however, can forget war’s chaos?  Who can forget death, dismemberment, the stench of burnt flesh and the coppery tang of spilled lifeblood?  For these poets, it is obvious they cannot.

Ultimately I believe the telos of moral injury is telling our stories. As I have written above, it is the not forgetting that forces one to come to grips with their participation in war. Writing provides a means of storytelling. Especially when one feels they cannot speak it aloud.

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