Prescriptions of Poetry

girls poetrySome years ago I did a workshop with John Fox, author of Finding What You Didn’t Lose and Poetic Medicine, who works with poetry for the purpose of healing. In his groups the focus is on drawing inspiration from poetry and writing poems of self expression and healing without worrying about needing to master the form. In our changing times I have more and more been thinking about the wisdom and healing power contained in poems.

Recently someone I know was getting ready to sell the home and land where she had lived and loved for thirty years. I had suggested that she write about it as a way to express her feelings and come to a sense of peace with the decision. She wrote a beautiful tribute and love poem to the land and gardens she had so carefully tended. I then had the urge to send her Mary Oliver’s In Blackwater Woods which carries in it a powerful message on what it means to let go.

Since then I have found that finding the right poem that speaks to what we are going through can hold us in a place of comfort, healing and deeper understanding of a challenge or difficulty in our life. It can be like writing a prescription for yourself knowing that words can heal.

If you are new to poetry and not accustomed to reading it then start with the highly accessible poets like the Sufi mystic poets like Rumi or Hafiz or best selling contemporary poets like Mary Oliver or Billy Collins. Below is Billy Collins’ poem introducing how to experience a poem and Mary Oliver’s In Blackwater Woods. Or try writing your own poem. Be willing to relax and play with it.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means

-Billy Collins

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattail
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

– Mary Oliver

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