the healing power of poetry

Posted by in letters to the boys

I recently read a beautiful essay in Poetry Review by John Burnside called “Travelling into the Quotidian: Some notes on Allison Funk’s ‘Heartland’ poems” (2005).  Burnside writes about the ability of poetry to heal because they can get beyond words, overcome the natural barrier that language presents.

“Metaphors are the means by which the oneness of the world is poetically brought about,” says Hannah Arendt; and healing could fairly be described as an attempt at oneness, a renewal of the connection to the continuum of the real, a discipline for happiness.”

I honestly have never liked poetry at all.  Completely closed off to it.  Poets seemed to be in a feverish competition to write the most complicated, obscure and sophisticated passages regardless of whether they were accessible by the average reader.  It seems self-conscious rather than effortless.  Rather, I love stories.  Not even short stories but deep complicated novels full of richly detailed and complicated people, places and emotions.

But this passage makes me think of poetry much differently.  I am intentionally approaching the world with an open mind and I think it’s time I revisit poetry with an open mind.  Or not even an open mind so much but through the lens that the author proposed above.  I am, for the first time in my life, completely limited by words.  Sure, I have always struggled like most people do to express myself in certain situations.  Or my words don’t always come out as I’d like…  But I am now experiencing things that I sometimes feel I can’t express at all.  I use words like ‘soul’, ‘spirit’, ‘universe’ and they are both so vague and so loaded that the words are essentially useless.  But if not those words, then what?  Maybe it’s poetry.  I wrote an earlier blog post about the power of music to heal, but perhaps poetry has that potential as well because it lets us express feelings and experiences that traditional writing can’t.