The Poetry Pharmacy

The fourth instalment in my occasional series on how what you read can help you improve your own writing.

An image of the book The Poetry Pharmacy
Reading poems can help you improve your own writing

Please don’t think of poetry as the often turgid rhymes you had to learn by rote back in school, when you were far too young to understand the meaning and emotion the poet was trying to convey. Poetry is far more powerful, beautiful and inspiring than that.

Everything you read has an impact on your own writing, even though you may not realise it at the time. It’s why all the copywriting greats advise their students to read widely. From headlines in The Sun to great literary works, each word, phrase and paragraph offers something you can draw from.

Yet poetry is often overlooked, even though it is one of the most creative and inspiring forms of writing, especially for copywriters.

“Poem” comes from the Greek poíēma, meaning a “thing made,” and a poet is defined in ancient terms as “a maker of things.”


Poets write to express emotion, tell stories, create images and share ideas. They use words, often in unusual arrangements, to create rhythm, sound and emphasis. A poem can be long, such as Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (21,000 lines), or short, such as Wendy Cope’s Two Cures for Love (two lines).

And while poetry can get a bad press for being elitist, inaccessible and long-winded, the best grabs our attention and stirs our emotions without wasting a single word. Just as the best copywriting should. 

The Poetry Pharmacy


The Poetry Pharmacy is a collection of poems to help heal the heart, mind and soul. It covers 56 of life’s most common problems including mental and emotional wellbeing, motivations, self-image and self-acceptance, the world and other people, and, of course, love and loss.

It is a deeply moving anthology, described by Waterstones as ‘less a collection of verse than a companion for life.’


William Sieghart, founder of National Poetry Day, the Forward Prizes for Poetry and a long-time champion for libraries. He came up with the idea for the book after giving a talk at a literary festival and later being asked to prescribe poems for members of the audience.

Sieghart said, ‘Being there with the right words for someone in that moment – when something’s happened, when they’re in need – is a great comfort, and sometimes creates a love of poetry that can last a lifetime.’


The book aims to provide solace, connection and the realisation that I’m not the only one who feels like this. Sieghart introduces each poem and the condition he is prescribing it for with a piece of writing as beautiful and powerful as the poems themselves. His understanding of both the human condition and the healing power of words is as much a reason to read the book as the poetry he has curated.

When introducing the poem he prescribes for divorce, break-ups and heartbreak Sieghart writes:

“When we look back over our lives, there are golden moments: honeymoons in Provence, years in a particularly lovely job, or just periods when everything seemed to be going our way. These flashes of glory are impermanent, but by God are they worth having. If we can manage to see a finished relationship or a dissolved marriage as one of these moments – finite, but precious and gleaming in our memories – then we will have neither fallen nor failed.”

And the poem he prescribes for this condition, Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert, ends with the lines:

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,

but just coming to the end of his triumph.


Three reasons.

Firstly, for the quality of the writing. Both Sieghart and the poets write about conditions from boredom to bereavement with breathtaking clarity, care and compassion. And despite the serious sentiment, it’s never heavy reading. There are many gentle doses of humour to help lift your spirits.

Secondly, for the variety. The collection includes ancient and modern poems, extracts from epic poems, funny poems, heart-rending poems, poems that rhyme and those that don’t. You’ll experience different rhythms, challenges and constructs, all of which are worth every drop of ink on the page.

Thirdly, for the emotion. Even if you’ve never (yet – be thankful) faced the condition a poem is included to help heal, you cannot fail to be touched by the warmth of feeling and understanding throughout the book.


This book helped me through a difficult time in my own life. Reading it inspired me to write some poems that helped me understand and come to terms with how I was feeling. What I learned has gone on to influence my copywriting, and my daily life. 


Stephen Fry, who said, ‘Here is balm for the soul, fire for the belly, an arm around the lonely shoulder … a matchless compound of hug, tonic and kiss.’

Alain de Botton, who said, ‘The book is delightful; it rightly resituates poetry in relation to its biggest and most serious task: helping us to live and die well.’

Hello. I’m Sarah Russell, a freelance copywriter from near Cardiff in south Wales.

While you may not need rhyme in your writing, you will need rhythm and soul. I can help you get both.

Call me on: 01873 776 153

Email me at:

Connect with me on: LinkedIn

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you found something in it to help or inspire you, or to make you smile. Please feel free to share it.