The Power of Poetry: Helping Us Heal, Feel and Transition

I taped Jorge Luis Borges’s poem, You Learnto the wall above my desk. It’s helping me through the married to not married transition. It whispers messages about love and endurance when I need them. Often my eyes drift to the poem and gently land on a line or stanza…

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers…

Like a prayer or mantra the poem works its way into my consciousness and nurtures me from the inside out.

Where We Turn in Crisis

We often discover poetry during a crisis. When we are most vulnerable.  When we are willing to let beautiful expression and resonance tap the soft spot where we bleed and heal. Poetic imagery helps us understand through sensations and feelings rather than a gathering of knowledge.  It soothes our inner world with artistic light and universal meaning.

Let us not forget that music is poetry. Song lyrics speak to us like intimate friends. Melody puts its arm around us and walks us forward. Singing shifts us little by little from victim to survivor. From being alone to being one with all.

 Poetic Ritual and Writing: Keeping Us Sharp and Satisfied

Poetic verse is not passive.  It engages us and makes us discern, ponder and investigate.  It turns our focus inward and then outward.  How is this me?  How is this everyone?  For this reason poetry writing is as valuable as Sudoku, crossword puzzles and reading in the battle to maintain mental acuity. In the article, A Mad Obsession: Poetry on the Brain by Cynthia R. Green, Dr. Milton Ehrlich is mentioned for his late-in-life passion for crafting poetry.  Ehrlich began his sincere poetry writing at the tender young age of 70, when he transitioned from working full-time as a psychologist to working part-time. Dr. Ehrlich is now 80 and has published three books of poetry. He writes about wisdom earned from experience and the conflict and comfort found while exploring our inner psychic worlds.

I am always working on a poem and seem to crank out a new poem almost every week. I think about it all the time. Some would call it a mad obsession.  ~ Dr. Milton Ehrlich

I myself spent a year reading and writing Haiku poems. I stumbled upon a beautiful little book called, Haiku Mind and was hooked.  I made it a ritual every morning to compose one of these small wonders.  I loved capturing the birth and death of a moment in a set of syllables organized in a simple 5-7-5 pattern.  Stripping everything away but the seed of truth, which showed itself with a tiny burst of light. I highly recommend the practice. Note to self: reinstitute haiku habit.

Poetry in Education

I remember learning the technical aspects of poetry in school. Iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme, 5-7-5 syllable  structure.  I memorized and recited a rather long poem in sixth grade about getting a haircut and washing your car.  I vaguely recall it being humorous. I have no recollection of how I felt when I read the poem other than I was proud of my memorization skills. I have no residual feelings of attachment to the words or message.  What a shame.  I wish I would have chosen a poem I was so drawn to that I had no choice but to learn it by heart.

In The Sun Magazine’s article, Written on the Bones: Kim Rosen on Reclaiming The Ancient Power of Poetry, poetry therapist (healer?), Kim Rosen, says memorizing a poem is more like conquering it than entering into a relationship with it. Learning by heart denotes a willingness to be moved and changed. She says no one told her in school that poems were conscious-altering substances. No one told her rhythm could free her mind, alliteration could allow her feelings to flow and rhyme could crack open her thought patterns.

Perhaps this is exactly what children need to be taught in school. Surrender your pride and allow yourself to be moved, changed and healed.  The willingness experienced will carry you through life’s crises. Openness will expose you to beauty and opportunities you will never see with a memorization-muddled mind.

I know of a boy closing in on the final days of a three-year chemo regiment for ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia ). His body and spirit are weary but he’s made it. Six weeks ago his 6th grade Language Arts class did a poetry unit. Kids were assigned a poem to read and answer questions about.  This boy read the poem, Another Mountain by Abiodun Oyewole. The final lines in the poem are, But my wings only work, after I’ve climbed a mountain. Instead of stuffing this poem in his crammed backpack and forgetting about it like most kids did, he took it home and shared it with his mom and instead of putting it in the recycle bin after that, he folded it neatly and put it the important papers file.

You Learn

I take Jorge Luis Borges’s poem, You Learn, to heart.  I grant it access to my subconscious and spirit. Every day it seeps in and guides me through this time of transition. It teaches me how to tap into vulnerability and heal the wounded spots. It teaches and I learn.

Where do you experience poetry?

In music? Within your faith? At poetry slams?

Has poetry ever helped you heal?

If you enjoyed The Power of Poetry then you may also like:

JFK Eulogy for Robert Frost – Los Angeles Times

The Journey – Mary Oliver

The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Blossom or Hibernate? In Love and Work, When Is It Right to Start Anew? – Space2live

Spirit of Summer – Space2live archives