The Healing Power of Poetry (5 min read)

Dana has enjoyed writing poetry since she was 9 years old. It’s easy to stop pursuing what makes us passionate, passing it off as a hobby, but Dana is recognizing the importance of the healing that comes from giving her story a voice through writing and performing.

I’ve taught English to middle and high school students for over a decade. When we come to the poetry unit there are a handful of students who are eager and excited to learn and write, but by far the room is filled with groans, and the vast majority of students dread the poetry section. They’ve had bad experiences, it seems difficult to understand with all of the metaphors and figurative language, and they’ve struggled to interpret Shakespeare and outdated language. It’s a shame that the typical educational system has given poetry such a bad name because when written or spoken intuitively, poetry can be a force of grounding; poetry has the power to heal.

Poetry often details an intense or unpleasant experience but it also seeks to find closure or meaning behind it. It allows for processing and can be therapeutic. Poetry doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. It may not literally fix the brokenness, but it is a holistic approach that allows us to care for ourselves, and to feel a sense of healing.

Writing poetry is also a way to nurture a mindfulness practice because when writing poems, we have the chance to unleash the unconscious mind.

How Poetry Can Heal by Dr. Diana Raab

I remember the first poem I wrote that wasn’t a school assignment. I was 9 years old and I sent it in a letter to my grandfather. I don’t have the poem anymore and I can’t remember it word for word, but here’s what I do remember.

I travel near
I travel far
But do not find 
The peace within my heart
I try to let the issue go
My head says stop
My heart says keep going
...

His response to my poem is distinct in my mind. He told me that it was too heavy for my age. At the time I took it as a compliment that I was mature, but now looking back, I know that poem was my unconscious mind trying to heal from a repressed sexual trauma I underwent when I was 8 years old. I didn’t even remember that this trauma occurred until I was in my mid-twenties and the memory is still hazy to this day.

Sometimes emotions or experiences are so big, take up so much space in our hearts, in our heads, in our internal dialogue, yes, even in our bodies, that every day, ordinary language does not suffice, does not do justice.

Perhaps it can be an approach to become whole again in a different sense than before pain.

Cathartic Poetry: Healing Through Narrative by Richard Bruce Hovey, MA, PhD, Valerie Curro Khayat, MA, and Eugene Feig

Poetry allows us to reclaim our story by confronting our emotions and giving them a voice. It can serve as an outlet for whatever emotions are pushing through, for hurt when we’ve been mistreated, for love when it’s bursting from us and we can’t contain it, for grief when we’ve lost something dear to us. It provides a voice to make change in a world that is broken.

Modern poetry is written with punctuation, broken up by line breaks and stanzas. This is based on the idea that the poem will be read aloud and be given an audible voice. How powerful it is to put a voice to a story that may otherwise go untold. So with that, I will leave you with a poem I wrote. You will notice that many of the words I wrote earlier in this blog, but they were taken from this poem to create prose. The punctuation and the line breaks create voice.

I wanted to write a poem about grieving my dad who passed away 6 months ago. I started. There were a few words that flowed, but I felt blockage. Perhaps I’m not ready yet. This is not the poem I intended to write, but it’s what the unconscious mind needed to release, to start the healing process, and for that, I dedicate it to my father, Douglas Dilliplane.

The Healing Power of Poetry by Dana Perich

When we speak, 
we breathe 
and breath is life.

Sometimes emotions or experiences are so big, 
take up so much space in our hearts, 
in our heads, 
in the internal dialogue, 
yes, 
even in our bodies, 
that every day, 
ordinary language does not suffice.
Our voices feel stifled by the emotions, 
by the experience.

Sometimes we talk, 
sometimes we don’t.
But poetry, 
gives that voice
that might otherwise be quieted,
to the words we may not know how to speak otherwise.
It allows for healing, 
for wisdom.

Your story is not unimportant.
It’s not to be brushed off
or dismissed
or forgotten
or suppressed.

It is important.
It is honest.
It can be raw or even ironic.
It is truth 
And it needs to be spoken.
It needs to be heard.

But why do we stop creating,
stop writing, 
stop pursuing as we age?
That’s when we need it most. 
We need an outlet 
for stress, 
for whatever emotions are pushing through, 
for hurt 
when we’ve been mistreated, 
for love 
when it’s bursting from us and we can’t contain it, 
for grief 
when we’ve lost something dear to us, 
We need a voice to make change in a world that is broken. 
So why do we stop?

I am a poet. 
I feel release when I write, 
when I speak out loud, 
when I share my experiences. 
So why do I hold on? 
Why do I hesitate when my body says, 
"I need a release?"
Why do I push it to the side like it’s a hobby rather than a need? 
I NEED healing
I NEED wisdom.
I NEED release.
And poetry,
it's all of these.

Author: Dana Perich, Wellness Coach & Trainer

References:

Raab, Diana. How Poetry Can Heal. 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empowerment-diary/201904/how-poetry-can-heal
Richard Bruce Hovey, MA, PhD, Valerie Curro Khayat, MA, and Eugene Feig. Cathartic Poetry: Healing Through Narrative. 2018. https://www.thepermanentejournal.org/doi/10.7812/TPP/17-196#con1

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