Why is poetry important?
I think poetry is the memoir of the soul. Good poetry reveals inner truth, conflict, lessons learned, and universal truth that arise out of a life suffered and lived. Really all good literature does this, but poetry is especially healing. I’ve found the poetry of Mary Oliver, David Whyte, Rumi, John O’Donahue, among others, to be comforting. In my library, I have a book by John Fox called Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making (1997). It teaches how to write poetry to express feelings, fears, pain, love, grief, illness, intimacy, abuse, the whole span of human emotions and relationship issues. Poetry writing in an outlet, the soul singing in metaphors that describe truths in concrete ways employing devices that create the songs. I sometimes write reflective, prayerful poetry, sometimes memoir, sometimes reactions to current events. People have called the poems powerful, raw, haunting, and passionate I think because the poems are my honest attempts to resolve inner conflicts with the subjects. By doing so, I feel some relief. While writing my poetic memoir, which is due to come out this fall (2022), I came to understand my mother and myself, and to discover the source of our conflicts: intergenerational trauma and the mother wound, abandonment, lost dreams.
Emily Dickinson wrote, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know this is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head has been taken off, I know that is poetry.” The confessional poets Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop come to mind. Their mental suffering produced poignant imagery, and their poems were masterful. Plath was writing several poems a day leading up to her sad end by suicide. We also lost Bishop to that. Can we say poetry is healing in that case? When I read their work and listen to them read their work on documentaries on You Tube, I feel the top of my head taken off. Their poetry illustrates the crying out of the soul. Maybe I can find healing in their words, even if their suffering was too great for them to bear.
Anyone with feelings and emotions can write poetry if the desire is there. The human condition calls for words in poetry and music to comfort troubled souls. I turned to poetry writing as a young child to express my feelings. I felt intimidated by all the great poets I studied in school and felt incapable of writing good poems. This fear of failure created a block. I didn’t understand how to get in touch with that deep part of myself. I think teachers need to do more to help children express themselves with poetry. What we don’t heal internally will project out as anger and hurt others publicly (Jung). Writing poetry is meditative, a true practice of being present to oneself.