April is National Poetry Month and as a poet and research psychologist it is my favorite time of year to discover and promote the joys and transformative powers of this art form. After all, poetry is the voice of the soul.
What is poetry?
Reading and writing poetry offers insight into the human psyche and human behavior. Poets help us see a slice of the world in a way we might not have seen before. Poetry offers a place where our imagination roams freely. Our life experiences give us much to write about. The fact is that without our body we would not exist if we were unable to imagine who we are and who we could become. It has been said that if we kill the imagination, then our psyche may also die.
Why poetry is powerful
Poetry is powerful because it succinctly puts voice to the innermost feelings and therefore can be an excellent tool for psychotherapists. People tend to write poetry in the midst of powerful emotions. Poetry helps provide a dialogue for what the poet is experiencing. Some of the best poems incorporate deep emotions and/or poignant imagery. Many poets write poems to help them through difficult times or times when rage might emerge. For some poets, it is the rage or defiance of life that ignites their passion for writing poetry and also serves as a medium for deep insights to emerge.
In Poetry and story therapy, Chavis tells us that the simple act of putting words on the page can boost self-esteem and be a way to tap into your inner truth. From a transpersonal perspective, it can sharpen your awareness and significantly help connect the past, present, and future. Also, writing can help simplify what seems like a complicated situation.
The healing and transformative power of poetry
The healing and transformative power of poetry has many roots in American history. During the Civil War, Walt Whitman read his poems to wounded soldiers. His writings highlighted war, courage and military life. There have been many doctors who were also poets. William Carlos Williams wrote poems between patients on the prescription pads he kept in his pocket. Other doctor-poets include John Keats, Anton Chekov and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Poets tend to be in touch with their deepest emotions and the best doctors are those who are also able to tap into the deepest part deep in the psyche. In other words, they have the innate ability to connect emotionally with themselves and their patients.
In recent years, poetry has been incorporated into a number of medical school curricula, including Yale and Harvard School of Medicine. In an article published in the New York Times, Writer Pauline Chen, MD, referenced “The Physician as Poet” and how poetry can help physicians empathize and understand what a patient is going through.
Using poetry as a means of healing and transformation can help us find wholeness, and this is done both by reading and writing poetry. In many indigenous and tribal cultures, illness among its members is seen as a communal problem, and when healing occurs in groups, it can be even more powerful. In How to read a poem, Peacock says that sometimes we are “drawn to a poem because it makes us feel like someone is listening to us.” What the reader feels is, “Wow, this poem is about me; it expresses exactly how I feel. It opens up a certain magic to the reader.
Poetry therapy has become increasingly common in clinical practice, primarily because writing poetry is a wonderful way to express feelings on the page in order to capture and tap into what is happening on the inside. inside. This is especially helpful for those who tend to be more introverted and have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. Humanistic psychologist Rollo May says in his book, The courage to create, that we write poetry for our enjoyment and deepening, and as a way to expand the meaning of our lives. It is also a powerful means of self-expression that can lead to transcendence, transformation and growth.
Tips for Writing Poetry
The best poems begin with a powerful feeling, image, or event. The specificity and liveliness of the language in a poem is what makes it poignant to read. It takes a lot of courage to write poetry because it is writing that comes from the heart. It’s about letting go of the rational mind and letting feelings and emotions take over. To do this, it is important to be in touch with the five senses when writing; readers must be able to imagine what the poet sees, hears, smells, tastes and touches. For example, when describing a scent, ask yourself if it is musty, floral, or pungent. The detailed writing also uses metaphors and refrains from using cliches. For writers, this is called showing instead of telling.
Poets sometimes refer to the word duende, which is a Spanish word referring to the spirit or quality of passion and inspiration. When it comes to writing poetry, duende is writing with a soul or in a heightened state of emotion. Poems written with duende can make you laugh, cry or think, and somehow give you some kind of bodily reaction (eg chills).
In poetry, every word is critical. The best poets master details such as specificity and clarity in their writing. For example, instead of using “tree”, they would write “elm”. Or, instead of saying “bird”, they would use “robin”. The idea of poetry is to create an image with words. If you want to start creating these images, start with an idea or a thing and go from there.
Write prompt: At the top of your page, write “I confess” and write a poem about something you care about, incorporating a deep sense of that passion into your words. Remember to create a picture with your words and try to include all of your senses and just keep writing to see where the poem goes.