Reviews /

You Are Not Alone

Authored by Shauna Darling Robertson
Published by Troika Books

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You Are Not Alone is a poem collection by Shauna Darling Robertson aimed at teens around the theme of mental health and wellbeing. We routinely hear of a mental health crisis in young people but alongside that is a spike in young people engaging with therapies that include reading and writing. This collection brings these two data trends into alignment.

The collection has utility in two different spheres. Young people reading this collection would find a voice that speaks for, and to, them. Many of the poems take a first-person perspective and highlight that there is a community of likeminded voices experiencing their troubles. On a dark day I found reading many of these poems quite cathartic. I particularly chuckled at ‘How to Rock at Self-Care’ which I read while taking a bubble bath surrounded by candles, thinking that this still wasn’t working for me.

Despite its focus on mental health, there doesn’t seem to be anything too triggering, either. Perhaps this is a critique of the text – it’s quite general. But also, it’s quite gentle in its approach to considering ways to explore mental health and wellbeing without diving into deep, dark holes of despair.

The second sphere of utility concerns how teachers might use this collection. I’m not sure that I would share the whole collection with all the young people in my class. Handing out copies to those who might benefit from it would work. And so, also, would using some of the poems as inspiration or teaching.

While reading ‘Thou Shalt be Immaculate’, I thought it would be interesting to give this poem to students for them to explore structure. This poem is a long list of creams – ‘face cream, hand cream, foot cream’ – and I was interested in the placement of the creams in the list. Having students read this aloud and then explore why the ‘creams’ are listed in the clusters that they are would help them to understand word choice, placement and rhythm. I also thought about having them write a short piece that uses this as an inspiration, using the word ‘time’ or ‘class’, for example.

‘I’m Juggling a Hundred Fullstops’, on the other hand, explores the way that punctuation can impact a work and how these breaks and pauses might make us feel. I thought this was a very clever poem for classroom use for a couple of reasons. By using the poem as inspiration, students might find themselves understanding the function of the punctuation better. Also, as a writing prompt, it would be a great way to get them thinking about the impact of punctuation on their work – especially if used in late Key Stage 3 or early Key Stage 4.

The other way that teachers might use this collection is in its use of prompts. It takes the opening line, or closing line, of another poem or song and constructs a piece that engages with the original. This could be a useful task for engaging students with their taught poems. They would have to fully engage with the original in order to ‘talk back to it’. It also responds to other published poems’ style, content and voice.

Another way is related to its use of proverbs. Starting with a proverb and responding to it might make for an interesting connection with Religious Studies or Classics. Often when completing creative writing units or tasks the biggest problem for students is where to start – giving them a proverb and then showing how someone else has done this can be good for bridging the gap between thinking and doing. ‘Holding Out Hope’ does this by starting with a Chinese Proverb.

This is a really lovely collection of poems. Authentic voices abound but so do inspirations. There is so much you could do with this text as a teacher or instructor. But equally there is so much value in just sharing it with young people who might be in trouble. Share this and a writing journal and who knows what they might write.

Selected for the Empathy Lab 2024 Collection