Thoughts on World Poetry Day


Poetry, the most ancient form of prayer, is a necessary medicine for our times: a companion through difficulty; a guide when we are lost; a salve when we are wounded; and a conduit to an inner source of joy, freedom, and insight ~ Kim Rosen

For those of us who love poetry, Rosen’s words from her book Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words (Hay House) must surely delight; and for those who are less enamoured of poetry (as I was for many years), Rosen has this advice:

You don’t have to love all poetry. Do you love all music? Do you love every piece of art you see? Find just one poem you love, and speak it out loud. Your body, feelings, voice, and thoughts will come into harmony when you speak a poem that matters to you, and that can be incredibly healing.

When I was in school, I was taught poetry in an uninspired way by my teachers who sucked the joy out of it for me.  It was all about memorizing and analyzing the words to pass exams. So what a revelation to discover a joy and meaning in poetry I never could have imagined all those years ago sitting in classroom 2b. When I started writing this blog – and at the same time began to discover the poetry of Mary Oliver, Naomi Nye,  Derek Walcott and May Sarton among others –  I found my own experience powerfully reflected back to me and I became a convert. Now I cannot imagine a world without poetry.

I like how Rosen explains it: “When you attend a symphony, you lean back, close your eyes, and go for the ride. You’re not thinking to yourself, Now, what was Beethoven trying to say with that particular chord? But with poetry, because it’s words on a page, we think we’re supposed to understand it the way we understand a newspaper article. The left brain says, Aha! This is my domain. It wants a literal meaning to the poem. But poetry is the stuff of the right brain — the ineffable, the emotional, the relational — arriving dressed up in the costume of the left brain: words.”

Poetry communicates at the subconscious level. Read what Naomi Nye says about poetry:

I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.

Rafael Campo, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center believes in poetry’s power to heal and enrich us. “Poetry has the power to say that others have been through this, that you can live with it too.” Dr Campo says he discusses poetry with his patients as a way to share a different perspective on the experience of illness: “You’re engaging the patient and letting them know you see them as a whole person and not just a lump in a breast.” He has even been known to share a book of poetry among the resource materials he compiles!

Poetry as medicine has a history that stretches back to ancient times – poetry was used for healing by the priests who would consult Apollo, the god of medicine and poetry, at the sacred site of Delphi.  In tribal cultures shamans and witch doctors chanted poetry for the well-being of the tribe or individual.

All healing is a road back home to our original selves and I believe that poetry is one of the greatest means of finding our way back.

Do you have a favourite poem to share with us on World Poetry Day?