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The Power Of Poetry

Poetry Has the Power of Healing

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Healing a Nation

Recently, I had strong feelings come up when I heard  Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” at the 2021 Inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. I was moved by the poem as I often am when hearing words expressing intense feelings. The cadence and theme were healing and resonated deeply due to the context of where we are at as a nation. William Carlos Williams has a famous line in his poem;“ Asphodel, That Greeny Flower:’

“It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Gorman’s Inauguration poem was the news that did not allow us to die miserably.  Instead, it spoke of the collective experience of feeling as “unfinished” potential. The process of healing for an individual is usually not linear or ever fully complete so it follows that a nation with a repetitive history of unresolved pain will not heal from one poem. However, the power is in how the words will reverberate and revitalize through us all as we seek to heal ourselves and our communities. 

Healing in the Community

At the start of my adult life I began using the reading and writing of poetry for therapeutic purposes. I started attending training in poetry therapy where I became more aware of the healing I could offer and experience when discussing a poem. Often I found that when reading a poem aloud in a group I was deeply moved by the moment of connection through shared experiences expressed in imagery and metaphor. I was continuously amazed that painful and conflicting feelings could be captured so beautifully and alleviate emotional distress in a poem. Poetry also helped me connect to adolescent girls in a residential treatment center that were frequently uncertain about their self worth. The barriers that I put up due to my lack of awareness of my privilege and their difficulty to trust me were broken down in poignant and brief moments when we connected through reading and writing poetry. When I found a poem that I thought would resonate with the girls, I was awed by how their perspectives showed me a shared language and a better understanding of their vulnerabilities. 

Healing Myself

Poetry is my first love and it helped me find a place for my emotions during my own adolescence. It felt almost like a secret and safe place where I could be as wild and emotionally hyperbolic as I needed to be in the moment; a place where I could combine childhood dreams with the anxieties of adolescence. In the book about writing techniques for at-risk youth, Richard Gold lists one of the benefits of writing poetry is it “provides a safe and private experience, with individual control over the outcome” (2014). Poetry was my haven for self-exploration and to express feelings too scary to share. However, I think now about how a witness (other than my creative writing teacher) to my inner conflict could have benefitted me further. Nevertheless, I now recognize that the inner-connectedness of writing led me to love the healing power of all expressive arts. 

Healing with Poetry Through Expressive Arts Therapy

The reading and writing of poetry continues to be a safe place to express feelings but I also like to explore the imagery and feel my feelings with other creative endeavors. Sometimes words can be intimidating and not easily accessible when also being flooded with feelings. And even the phrase “flooded with feelings” is a metaphor that describes what feelings do using a natural process of an essential element, water. The imagery of a flood is evocative and fire, earth, water, and air are often used to describe  feelings and how we experience our feelings through metaphor. For instance, it has become more part of our common language to be told to take a deep breath for various reasons. Taking in air is involuntary so as a coping skill it is often not enough or it seems too simple but it is the first thing many therapists will tell you when giving you a tool to help during emotional distress. I recommend mindful breathing all the time. However, I also feel that what I need is to engage my other senses of the elements. I do this with imagery combined with writing words to describe each of the elements and my relationship to deep breathing. Here is one poetic structure I decided upon:

Air– Breathing is rhythmic unless air gets trapped inside my mouth.

Water– I cough up the ocean when I hold my breath out too long

Earth– Down on the ground I find myself flopping like a fish

Fire– Burn in my lungs, a fire taking control,

   Someone who loves me whispers in my ear 

“Take a deep breath. Now!”

  then I am soothed with cold breezes on a summer day. 

Ideas for Integrating Other Art Modalities

  • You can write your own poem about breathing and the elements and then create a dance or movement to go with it. 
  • You can draw, paint, use another art medium to create a mandala with the elements and an image of a deep breath. 
  • You can notice your breath while doodling the elements with different symbols. When you need a pause in your art making, take deep breaths and then add or simply look at your art piece, then perhaps create another one. 
  • With an instrument such as a drum or shaker (create your own), Make a beat to go with each element and take deep breaths when you feel the need.