ROCHESTER, Minn. – What do superheroes and silver bullets have to do with poetry? After doing a little research on the healing power of poetry, I concluded that they are all the same. Let me explain.
Superheroes, equipped with incredible superpowers, rush in and save people. Silver bullets kind of do the same thing. They offer quick and easy solutions to difficult problems.
When I typed “the healing power of poetry” into my laptop’s search bar, a slew of research articles came up. A
from the International Arts and Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University, notes that the written word has the power to help reduce stress in times of difficulty. How? By giving people the opportunity to express themselves and make sense of whatever is disrupting their world.
For example, a 2021
published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics shows that poetry helps calm the fears, worries and sadness of children in the hospital. And in another
, the authors conclude that poetry helped reduce anxiety and build resilience in cancer patients. Hospitals and cancer can be scary and stressful for patients and their loved ones. And if poetry offers a way to help alleviate those fears, I categorize it as a superhero.
“Poetry is the voice of the human spirit,” says Rochester Poet Laureate Susan McMillan. “The Southeast Minnesota poets’ group meets regularly to share poetry. There have been many times when people have cried during a reading because they have been there – they may identify with the situation described in the poem. Maybe it’s a relative with Alzheimer’s disease or someone who has cancer. The gathering can become a kind of support group.
McMillan says some people are afraid of poetry because of a bad introduction in high school or elsewhere. But she says poetry doesn’t have to be scary (after all, nursery rhymes and naughty limericks are also poems). McMillan encourages everyone to try reading and writing poetry.
“Poetry is a beautiful, open form of human expression,” McMillan says. “You don’t need to know anything to write it. Your poems may not be clever or never published, but they will make sense.”
In March, I had the opportunity to host the Southeast Minnesota Poets virtual event, “Bright Light Stories in the Night”. Works written by poets from the region were read. The poems have been compiled into a collection, each illustrated by artists from the region. This year’s event included readings dedicated to those suffering as a result of the war in Ukraine.
It was a beautiful evening. When I signed up, I felt like I was being zapped by an anti-stress superhero. I didn’t worry as much about chores I left unattended or goals I didn’t complete earlier in the day. I was calm and filled with appreciation for having experienced such an outpouring of creativity and meaning.
As McMillan told me, sharing poetry brings people together and allows us to articulate awkward or difficult things.
“Yes,” McMillan said. “From my point of view, poetry can heal.”
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