How Poetry Changed Since the Time We Went to School

When most of us were in grade school,
we were mainly exposed to classical poets such as Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Mixed in might have been some limerick poems. While we were forced to memorize some
of the most famous poems, most of us had no idea what the poems actually meant.

How Poetry Has Changed

April is National Poetry Month, which
is a good time to discuss how poetry has evolved over the years, and how reading
it and writing it can help us heal. And since we’re all practicing social
distancing and trying to nurture stay-at-home hobbies, maybe this is a good
time to tap into poetry.

The most dramatic change is that contemporary
poetry has become more accessible. In other words, poems are easier to
understand, and the words and meanings resonate with us.

Contemporary poems tap into real feelings
and images that pertain to the human condition using words that we can
understand. For the most part, poets are usually quite observant and see things
that many of us might not readily notice.

As a tween, I remember falling in
love with the poetry of Rod McKuen. His work succinctly expressed feelings that
I had but was unable to clearly express.

In the 60s, when I became a teenager,
beat poets such as Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Pete Seger were popular,
and they continued to express situations common to the human experience.

How Poetry Heals

Healing is often done alone or as a
path to wholeness. As Sufi poet Rumi says, “The wound is the place where the
light enters you.” In other words, the wound is the pain and suffering we
encounter that puts us in touch with our inner selves. This can be the source
of our enlightenment.

Poetry helps us touch the wounded
part of us. As we move through the years, we become filled with memories. Some
of the memories may be good ones, while others may be the result of past

Sometimes it takes years for wounds
to heal, and other times it takes a lifetime, if at all. It’s true that the
body remembers, and often times our body remembers past traumas. Poetry helps
us access those wounds through words. This can lead to healing and

Poet Audre Lorde, for example, began
writing and reading poetry during childhood as a way to deal with growing up in
Harlem as an African-American woman of two parents with emotional walls between
them and their children.

During her childhood, she secretly
wrote poems in her journal, yearning to escape the tension at home. Writing and
reading poetry helped her navigate those challenging times.

On many levels, Lorde’s life story
resonated with me as we were both born to mothers whom we felt did not want us
and who refrained from nurturing the women we were. We were also both poets and
breast cancer survivors.

Poetry and Therapy

Often times, poetry is used in
conjunction with talk therapy. Writing poetry in a journal is a powerful way to
tap into what’s going on inside the self or in the unconscious mind. It’s also
a place to observe the inner and outer landscape.

Confessional poetry is powerful for
this. By using vivid language, we merge the intellectual and the emotional part
of ourselves.

When I was in my mid-50s I sought the
guidance of a therapist to help me deal with the deep pain of having lost my
grandmother and caretaker when I was 10 years old. I guess I was holding on to
a lot of unresolved grief.

In addition to inspiring me to write
my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal,
she inspired me to write poems to and about my grandmother. During my therapy
sessions, my therapist read them out loud to me. It was powerful to hear my
voice in a different way.

How to Start Writing a Poem

It’s never too late to start to write
poetry. The first step is to let go and just allow life and experiences to
unfold as they were meant to unfold. Poetry is the voice of the soul, so it’s
important to remember that when writing poetry, you have to try to let go of the
rational mind and let sensations and emotions take over.

The emotion is felt first, and the
words or thoughts come during the creation of the poem. Plato considered the
poet a vehicle of supernatural inspiration.

For some people, beginning a poem is
the most difficult, but practice makes it easier. One way to begin is to start
with a feeling or an image and take it from there. Poetry is written in
fragments. Each line or fragment should have an emotion or a compelling image.

Life provides us with much material
to write about. In addition to our memories, reflections, and fantasies, this wealth
of material can also include the books or articles we’ve read and the movies we’ve

As Robert Frost deftly stated, “A
poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a love sickness. It
is a reaching out toward expression: an effort to find fulfillment…”

The idea or subject of poems often
comes to us when we least expect it. That’s why it’s important to always keep a
journal and pen handy.

Finally, to write poetry, it’s
important to read a lot of poetry. The best poets master details and are very
specific in their writing. They show rather than tell. Ensuring that your poem
is visual will make it compelling to read! Happy writing!

How often do you read poetry? Who are
your favorite authors and why? Have you tried writing poetry? What was the
easiest part for you, and which was the most difficult? Please share your
thoughts, and maybe some poetry, with our community!