Poetry as Therapy: Seven Steps to Creatively Express the Tough Stuff
By making us stop for a moment, poetry gives us an opportunity to think about ourselves as human beings on this planet and what we mean to each other.
I have something incomprehensible to say, like bird song in the time of war
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.
Poetry is not a form of entertainment, and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but our anthropological, genetic goal, our linguistic, evolutionary beacon.
Poems distill it all down, capturing the essence of a feeling, a hardship, an experience, a moment of living history. Poetry can be there for you during the most painful, confusing times. Connecting to a poem can provide some solace; you are not alone in your pain.
Poetry doesn’t take long to read, or absorb, or be affected by. Poems can cut through our mind-fog, our worry, depression or overwhelm—and can help us develop a healthier relationship with what pains us the most. Poems have an almost magical way of stirring up emotions, waking up senses—things that almost can’t be put into words—and yet are there, type print on paper or screen.
You can read poems—or you can consider writing one of your own. Writing poems can be revealing, healing and/or restorative. Writing can be a way to process, cope with, or express what is going on with you and what is going on around you. You are in control and empowered when you are choosing what words to include, delete or re-vamp. You are figuring out what is meaningful to you and expressing it. That can be healing, because it is your truth, your perspective.
In more therap-ish terms, poetry can be a way to externalize the internalized. To get it out. To put a name to what troubles you, inspires you, chases you. To understand it better.
You may be telling yourself you’ve never been interested in reading poems, let alone writing one. Or that you don’t have any creative energy to think or write. That’s totally understandable. You don’t have to. And yet maybe the exercise below can ease some of those barriers—or pull those of you who are interested—towards an activity.
Exercise adapted from Poetic Medicine by John Fox:
What areas in your life are hard, painful, unresolved—or what is something you’ve been neglecting, yet you want to attend to, or investigate, or work on? Job stuff? Homelife dynamics? Family, spouse, child complexities? Patterns that keep repeating? Problems that haven’t been solved? Fears? Unknowns? Changes? Sorrows?
2. Get paper and pen and divide paper into two columns.
3. In the left column, write words about the stress, problem, or issue. You might include: difficult memories, how your body feels in that situation or place, qualities of a relationship. For example—tight jaw, no time to self-reflect, work past dinner time, will this ever end, slammed door, apathy and ignorance, when will we wake up? regrets upon regrets…
4. In the right column, write words, images, metaphors that nourish you, bring you relief. For example—spontaneous laughs, purification cry, the protest and the togetherness, letting go, sunrise, it’s not my fault, there’s still the stars at night, lavender smell after a good rain
5. Take words from each of your columns and link them together to make a poem. How can the nourishing words ease the stressful ones?
6. If you feel stuck, try using any of the words below, or ones you think of, to express metaphorically aspects of yourself, your life, your relationships, etc…to insert into your poem—wind, hurricane, drought, wildfire, prison, cell, mask, island, moon, black hole, galaxy, house, peach, apple, well, ditch, underpass, knife, ashes, stone, fountain, glove, jewels, fountain, statue, curtain, stage, concert hall, tower, microchip, virtual, masked, desert scorch, mountain snow…
7. The process of writing and discovering is just as important (if not more) than the product of the finished poem, so go easy on yourself.