The Life Righting Collective runs courses to encourage self-exploration through life writing, raises funds for course fees and brings people together to share their stories and grow community.

A Poetry Workshop as self-care?

Linda Kaoma

#selfcare has been one of the trendiest hashtags on social media for a long while - thank you Pop Culture! However, I feel we need to make some room for less romanticised and aesthetic-pleasing versions of self-care, maybe the type that involves more than a brightening mask? I am known to slap on a mask for my dull skin and call it my #selfcareroutine, which it is of course in some way, but my insecurities, contradictions, failure, mistakes, comparisons, complexities, depression, stubborn habits, and other issues usually demand a tad bit more.

My self-care routine has to be strong enough to pick me up from a bathroom floor when I get too insecure to face myself and the world. It needs to help me forgive myself yet again for ending up on those cold tiles. And sometimes, it just needs to sit with me as I cry the day away. Above all else, it should help me clean up all the horrifying and false stories that I've been telling myself for such a long time, which of course are the roots of many of my issues.

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(Photo by Claudia on Unsplash)

I think a poetry workshop is a great tool for this type of self-caring. Before you write me off completely, hear me out please. Let me specifically talk about the poetry workshops I run as part of the Life Righting Collective:

  • Attending the workshops means that you are intentionally taking the time out for yourself, away from your everyday life. Removing yourself from one vantage point to another might offer some insight into what the issues are and how they can possibly be dealt with.
  • Anyone is welcome at the workshops. So you do not need to be a poet or have written anything in your whole life; not an email, not a social media caption, nada! Remember our brains are highly identified with the terrible stories we tell ourselves and will thus fight against anything new. You know what I mean if you’ve ever tried introducing a new habit into your life. So sometimes the best way to implant new stories is by doing so in a way that the brain is not expecting. Thus a poetry workshop might just be the element of surprise you need. Trust me, this is all very scientific and I’ve found that to be the case for so many who have attended our workshops.
  • We play during the poetry workshops! Yes, I just used poetry and play in the same sentence. One of the fundamentals of poetry is playing around in your imagination and with language. The workshops include more than just literary exercises; they include drawing, dancing, visualisations and much more. Why is it important to make the workshops playful? Jaak Panksepp, the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, says that humans are born with an innate capacity for play. We cannot learn how to play, because we need to play in order to learn. Have you been around a toddler recently? My niece has a ton of toys and each is designed to help her in her development. So, during the workshops, we will be playing around so that we can learn more about ourselves, what motivates us and de-motivates us. This is imperative, because how do you care for a self that you know nothing about?
maya angelou writing
  • Another poetry fundamental is taking ordinary realities or stories and adorning them with figures of speech and other jewels. I have often found that even though I might have specific ideas about what I am writing about, the page often surprises me with something else. I once started writing a hate poem to an ex and the poem started implicating me as part of the problem too – I was so annoyed!  This happened maybe because the poetic mind, unlike the logical and plan-orientated mind is more curious than it is judgemental - and it is open to contradiction, juxtaposition, and unresolvedness. Sometimes, the rejigging of the story puzzle can offer more insight and a different perspective. It is the same feeling you get when you go for a walk in fresh air when you’ve been cooped up in the house the whole day – something shifts!
  • As you can imagine you will attend the workshop with other people. I am not great at people-ing, even on my best day, so I completely understand the anxiety that comes with attending a workshop with strangers. But during the workshops, we strongly encourage people-ing because that too can offer different perspectives. Someone else’s take on a situation can spark an interest in you to review your take on it. During the workshop, we also encourage people to read their work and receive feedback. We are very strict about practising compassion and sensitivity towards others’ work, and we are even stricter when it comes to your own work. This insistence on compassion and sensitivity towards yourself and others is an imperative tool when caring for the self.
  • During our poetry workshops, we try to tap into other forms of intelligence. Science is now telling us that we have more than one brain; we have brains in our hearts and our guts. How many times have you heard the phrases follow your heart or listen to your gut? There is so much truth to these glanced over phrases. Brain, you do not have the answers!! (Kanye West reference anyone?) Indeed it does not. We've been taught to always take cues from the brain, but during the workshop, we try to see how our responses to certain situations can be improved if perhaps we listen to our bodies. Learning to listen to our bodies is needed when self-caring.

If somewhere deep inside you, this has sparked interest, I implore you to listen to your own inner voice. Allow yourself to be curious, instead of fearful. Think about it - the worst-case scenario is I convert you into a poet (the wildest and most admired specimen in society). The best-case scenario is you walk away with at least one more delightful tool in your #selfcareroutine.

My next poetry workshop is on the 6th and 7th April (9.30am – 3pm daily) in Melville, Johannesburg. To book please email

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