When most of us were in grade school, we were mainly exposed to classical poets such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. Mixed in might have been some limerick poems. While we were forced to memorize some of the most famous poems, most of us had no idea what the poems actually meant.

How Poetry Has Changed

April is National Poetry Month, which is a good time to discuss how poetry has evolved over the years, and how reading it and writing it can help us heal. And since we’re all practicing social distancing and trying to nurture stay-at-home hobbies, maybe this is a good time to tap into poetry.

The most dramatic change is that contemporary poetry has become more accessible. In other words, poems are easier to understand, and the words and meanings resonate with us.

Contemporary poems tap into real feelings and images that pertain to the human condition using words that we can understand. For the most part, poets are usually quite observant and see things that many of us might not readily notice.

As a tween, I remember falling in love with the poetry of Rod McKuen. His work succinctly expressed feelings that I had but was unable to clearly express.

In the 60s, when I became a teenager, beat poets such as Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Pete Seger were popular, and they continued to express situations common to the human experience.

How Poetry Heals

Healing is often done alone or as a path to wholeness. As Sufi poet Rumi says, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” In other words, the wound is the pain and suffering we encounter that puts us in touch with our inner selves. This can be the source of our enlightenment.

Poetry helps us touch the wounded part of us. As we move through the years, we become filled with memories. Some of the memories may be good ones, while others may be the result of past wounds.

Sometimes it takes years for wounds to heal, and other times it takes a lifetime, if at all. It’s true that the body remembers, and often times our body remembers past traumas. Poetry helps us access those wounds through words. This can lead to healing and transformation.

Poet Audre Lorde, for example, began writing and reading poetry during childhood as a way to deal with growing up in Harlem as an African-American woman of two parents with emotional walls between them and their children.

During her childhood, she secretly wrote poems in her journal, yearning to escape the tension at home. Writing and reading poetry helped her navigate those challenging times.

On many levels, Lorde’s life story resonated with me as we were both born to mothers whom we felt did not want us and who refrained from nurturing the women we were. We were also both poets and breast cancer survivors.

Poetry and Therapy

Often times, poetry is used in conjunction with talk therapy. Writing poetry in a journal is a powerful way to tap into what’s going on inside the self or in the unconscious mind. It’s also a place to observe the inner and outer landscape.

Confessional poetry is powerful for this. By using vivid language, we merge the intellectual and the emotional part of ourselves.

When I was in my mid-50s I sought the guidance of a therapist to help me deal with the deep pain of having lost my grandmother and caretaker when I was 10 years old. I guess I was holding on to a lot of unresolved grief.

In addition to inspiring me to write my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, she inspired me to write poems to and about my grandmother. During my therapy sessions, my therapist read them out loud to me. It was powerful to hear my voice in a different way.

How to Start Writing a Poem

It’s never too late to start to write poetry. The first step is to let go and just allow life and experiences to unfold as they were meant to unfold. Poetry is the voice of the soul, so it’s important to remember that when writing poetry, you have to try to let go of the rational mind and let sensations and emotions take over.

The emotion is felt first, and the words or thoughts come during the creation of the poem. Plato considered the poet a vehicle of supernatural inspiration.

For some people, beginning a poem is the most difficult, but practice makes it easier. One way to begin is to start with a feeling or an image and take it from there. Poetry is written in fragments. Each line or fragment should have an emotion or a compelling image.

Life provides us with much material to write about. In addition to our memories, reflections, and fantasies, this wealth of material can also include the books or articles we’ve read and the movies we’ve watched.

As Robert Frost deftly stated, “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression: an effort to find fulfillment…”

The idea or subject of poems often comes to us when we least expect it. That’s why it’s important to always keep a journal and pen handy.

Finally, to write poetry, it’s important to read a lot of poetry. The best poets master details and are very specific in their writing. They show rather than tell. Ensuring that your poem is visual will make it compelling to read! Happy writing!

How often do you read poetry? Who are your favorite authors and why? Have you tried writing poetry? What was the easiest part for you, and which was the most difficult? Please share your thoughts, and maybe some poetry, with our community!

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