Many people who watched the 2021 Presidential Inauguration were particularity moved by the poem written and read by Young Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. A poet myself, I’ve often been asked why poetry is so moving. Here is what I usually say . . .
Poetry is the voice of the soul and heart, rather than the mind. When we write poetry, we free any thoughts that might have been bottled up inside. Poetry can be described as a snapshot written from the inside out. One of the many reasons why poetry is so powerful is that it offers insights into both the human psyche and human behavior. Poetry is also a place where the imagination can roam free.
Typically, a poem begins with an emotion, a feeling, or an image. Often, it shares a transformative moment or revelation, such as the poem by Amanda Gorman. Much of the impact of a poem comes from its delivery, and not only was Gorman’s poem powerful, but her delivery was spectacular. It’s not surprising to hear that she’d studied Winston Churchill’s speeches, and that certainly served her well.
Feelings, images, or ideas described in a poetic form are usually succinct, vivid, and intense. William Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. . . .”
A poem usually has a distinct rhythm. Regardless of the type or style of poem, poetry uses an economy of words; therefore, every word is important. The more specific the poem, the better. The best poetry inspires readers to reflect, dream, reminisce, observe, and fantasize. Poems are written in fragments, and each line should have a singular image and feeling.
Reading and writing poetry encourages a certain amount of interconnectedness and helps establish a sense of community between oneself and others. In other words, poetry can help us feel as if we’re part of a larger picture and not just living in our isolated little world. We learn that others have embarked on similar journeys and have similar feelings and sentiments.
As most writers and therapists know, writing and reading poetry can be a springboard for growth, healing, and transformation. When we read a good poem, we have the opportunity to be forever changed by the poet’s words and message. We tend to be most transformed by poems where the poet expresses emotions or feelings we might be experiencing ourselves. For the most part, poets help us see a slice of the world in a way we might not have in the past.
For these reasons, poetry is also a way to nurture a mindfulness practice because when writing poems, we have the chance to unleash the unconscious mind. Sculpting our feelings and thoughts into a poem can take us on a journey where the conscious mind actually takes a little holiday. Writing poetry is a time to loosen up and allow the freedom of self-expression at a time when it’s often needed most.
Writing poetry allows us to tap into our authentic voice, and sometimes we can be surprised as to what type of self-discovery emerges. Henry David Thoreau, essayist and poet during the 19th century, once said that if we sit in a clearing long enough, the animals will come out of the woods and present themselves. Figuratively speaking, this also happens when we write poetry: all sorts of revelations can come to light.
For those who need to be heard, writing poetry can be an excellent outlet, and there are a number of ways to start writing poems: Begin with an image, thought, or a feeling. Then consider asking yourself one or all of these questions:
What scares me?
What saddens me?
What delights me?
What intrigues me?
What do I appreciate about the person I am?
Using these questions as an inspiration for writing poetry can help you tap into you emotional self. Poets and those in the helping professions often tend to be more in touch with their deepest emotions than others.
Years ago, before becoming a research psychologist, I was a registered nurse. During my practice, I learned that the most gifted doctors were those who were able to tap into the deepest part of their psyches. They were physicians who had an innate ability to connect emotionally with themselves and their patients. Over the course of history, there have been a number of doctors who were also poets. William Carlos Williams is a physician who comes to mind as someone who wrote poems in between seeing patients to put into words the agony and ecstasy of his work. He wrote on the prescription pads he kept in his pocket. Other physician-poets include John Keats, Anton Chekhov, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Reading and writing poetry is good for healing and transformation . . . and it’s also good for the soul!
Raab, D. (2017). Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press.