'Poetry and the Unquiet Mind' Webinar Highlights: 22 March 2024

9th Tow Tiang Seng Distinguished Lecture Series: Mental Health and the Arts

The unquiet mind, often fraught with emotions, thoughts, and conflicts, seeks avenues for expression and understanding. Poetry serves as a conduit, allowing these inner tumults to flow into words, rhythm, and metaphor.

Poetry can amplify the disquiet of the mind, delving into themes of uncertainty, longing, and existential questioning. It speaks to the restlessness within us, giving voice to the myriad whispers and shouts of our inner landscapes. Yet, paradoxically, poetry also offers a balm for the unquiet mind. Through its lyrical beauty, it can provide moments of catharsis, insight, and peace.

Through poetry, we not only articulate our innermost thoughts and emotions but also reach out to others, inviting them into our worlds of introspection, imagination, and the raw, unfiltered essence of our existence.

We would like to express our gratitude to Mr Tow Heng Tan and his family, for establishing the Tow Tiang Seng Distinguish Lecture series, in memory of his Father, to advance the knowledge and science of mental wellness.

Watch the full recording to find out more!


Poetry in Medical Humanities by Professor Femi Oyebode

Prof Femi Oyebode outlines the importance of mental resilience through the lens of medical humanities. He highlights the role of poetry in humanising medicine and addressing both the subjective and scientific aspects of illness.

Prof Oyebode discusses various poets, including Kobayashi Issa, Elizabeth Jennings, Robert Lowell, John Clare, and John Burnside, who have depicted experiences related to suffering, loss, and the stigma of mental illness. Through excerpts from their poetry, he illustrates the emotional depth and insights offered by these poets, providing a glimpse into the human experiences of illness and hospitalisation.

Prof Oyebode emphasises the value of poetry, in enhancing empathy among clinicians and providing a deeper understanding of patient experiences.

Read more: Selected Poems by Femi Oyebode

Personal Reflections Through Poetry by Dr Rosemary Khoo

Dr Rosemary Khoo shares her journey with poetry, highlighting its role as a faithful companion for over a decade. She explains how she uses poetry to express her feelings and experiences, including those related to family, heritage, travel, love, and ageing. Dr Khoo emphasises the calming and reflective nature of writing poetry, which allows her to process emotions and understand the experiences of others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she wrote poems of comfort and consolation for herself and her friends.

Dr Khoo focuses on two recurring themes in her poems: the wonders of the universe and the importance of treasuring the present moment. She reads two of her poems, “New Day” and “This Too Shall Pass“, which highlight these themes and offer messages of hope and resilience.


Harvesting the Essence of Life Through Poetry by Rick Koh

Rick Koh reflects on life’s transience through the lens of poetry, focusing on a single poem from his collection titled “Mango Harvest,” serving as a tribute to his father-in-law’s battle with cancer. Koh delves into the use of extended metaphors, such as the harvesting of mangoes, to explore the themes of legacy, human struggles, and the transient nature of life.

He reflects on the importance of mindfulness and gratitude in embracing the present moment, drawing inspiration from the Japanese concept of “Ichigo Ichie“. Koh contrasts this with the Western idea of “carpe diem,” highlighting the importance of mindfulness and gratitude for the present moment.

Rick Koh also mentions his other poetry collections, including “Around the World in 68 Days” and “The World Anew“, which incorporate themes of travel and reflection on life’s fleeting moments.

Read more: One United People: Essays from the People Sector on Singapore’s Journey of Racial Harmony by Koh Buck Song


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The Tow Tiang Seng Distinguished Lecture Series brings internationally and nationally eminent and respected thought leaders to speak on issues of key importance to developing mental resilience across all ages. Established in 2019, the lecture supports Mind Science Centre’s mission to innovate mind health with biological and social science through translational research in the community to build an undefeated mind. From businessmen and scientists to political figures and celebrities, each event is unique and designed to inform, inspire new ideas and spark collaborative interest. The lecture series is made possible by the generous donation of Mr Tow Heng Tan, in honour of his father – the late Mr Tow Tiang Seng. It is held annually and open to anybody with an interest in mental health to attend.


Professor Femi Oyebode

Honorary Professor of Psychiatry, University of Birmingham

Professor Oyebode studied medicine at the University of Ibadan, graduating with distinction in 1977. He trained as a psychiatrist in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and has been Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham since 1999. His books include Mindreadings: literature and psychiatry, Madness at the Theatre, Sims’ Symptoms in the Mind- Textbook of Descriptive Psychopathology 4-7th editions and Psychopathology of Rare and Unusual Syndromes. He is a published poet and his volumes include Wednesday is a Colour, Master of the Leopard Hunt, & Indigo, Camwood and Mahogany Red. He is joint presenter of the BBC Radio Four 8-part series, Is Psychiatry Working? He was Chief Examiner RCPsych 2002-2005. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2016 and the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (the highest honour of the RCPsych) in 2019

Mr Rick Koh Buck Song

Author & Poet | National Gallery Singapore’s Poet-in-Residence 2021-22

Mr Rick Koh is a Singaporean writer, poet, and country brand adviser. He is the author and editor of more than 40 books, including nine books of poetry and haiga art. He works as a writer, editor and consultant in branding, communications strategy and corporate social responsibility in Singapore.

He has held several exhibitions as a Singaporean pioneer of haiga art, developed from a 16th-century Japanese art form combining ink sketches with haiku poems. In 2023, his book Brand Singapore: Nation Branding in a World Disrupted by Covid-19 (2021) was longlisted by the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) for the Alan Chan Spirit of Singapore Book Prize, while his book One United People: Essays from the People Sector on Singapore’s Journey of Racial Harmony (2022) was shortlisted for best non-fiction by the Singapore Book Publishers Association.

Dr Rosemary Khoo

Founding President of University Women’s Association, Singapore and NUS Senior Alumni, National University of Singapore

Dr Rosemary Khoo is an educationist/applied linguist and retired Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore. She is the founding President of the University Women’s Association, Singapore (UWAS, now GWAS), and NUS Senior Alumni. She has written nearly 200 poems for pleasure.

“Poetry can be powerful therapy. Here my love of language and literature mingle in imaginative expression within my personal space where I delve into aspects of life which intrigue me _ love, loss, ageing, women, travel, food, heritage and Peranakan culture. I keep my poems as cards in a small portable box, much like a handy dispensing kit.”

We hope you enjoyed this webinar, and we look forward to seeing you again. Yeo Boon Khim Mind Science Centre has shared the video for educational purposes, in line with our goals to share knowledge and benefit the community. Please do not replicate the videos or slides without permission.

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