Quietly, I lay quill to parchment
Something stirs and lights inside
A deep-seated, mysterious compartment
That no longer wishes to hide.
Pulling out my high school journal has been a treat for me; it has followed me for over 20 years and through many moves. A week ago, I dove back in and discovered some poetry I had forgotten about. One of the poems spoke of a difficult time in life where I was processing the passing of my grandmother. My family did not speak of emotional issues, so it was up to me to figure out how to deal with the passing of this wise woman. Reading it brought back all the feelings of the severed connection. I would argue that was one of the moments in life where I felt the most disconnected from my family and that void has not been bridged to this day.
The significance of traumatic events, big or small, in our lives can leave an indelible mark on our consciousness. If we have no effective outlet, it will only lead to self-destruction, PTSD, depression, and anxiety (to name a few possible outcomes). The mental chaos caused by trauma needs to be ordered before one can make sense of it; poems were designed to provide room for the ordering of emotional material. Lyric poetry is but one of many forms of poetry by which we may more clearly and consciously make sense of the powerful events in our lives.
In Orr’s book Poetry as Survival, the author utilised lyric poetry from a very early age to help him process the death of his younger brother from a hunting accident. He recounted the event with vivid detail. He described how he caused the accidental firing of the weapon which led to his brother’s death. His parents only ever told him that it was an accident, but he craved a deeper meaning. Orr found the best way to express himself in a meaningful way was through poetry; that is precisely why I began all those years ago. Just as the author, I needed to discover myself in a way that allowed my voice to be heard and my experience(s) acknowledged.
Poetry has always lent itself to bringing healing and understanding between myself and the world. The creative act connects us to ourselves; Orr noted the act of creating poems has been around for thousands of years. He described how lyric poetry from as early as ancient Egypt and Greece shows the importance of using words for healing. Putting pen to paper for the purpose of recording our emotional state not only allows room to explore and connect with ourselves, our culture, and the wider community but to a worldwide tradition that has been practised throughout recorded history.
Writing poetry can be a great tool for maintaining mental wellness. A clear mind comes from the expression of thought and writing is a great vehicle for our thoughts. It can be a self-healing process and one that includes the local literary community around you – sharing your work and interacting with other writers can help you to clear your mind and better understand your thought processes, as well.
A few simple writing exercises will give you the opportunity to use your imagination, discover more about yourself, and then integrate your discoveries while healing some of the pain you have experienced in life. They can reveal the unconscious thoughts that govern your behaviour and help you to find answers for handling stressful situations, depression, anxiety, and day-to-day uncertainties. Studies have shown that expressive exercises can lower stress hormones, decrease pain, and improve chronic health problems by helping you to experience, express, and release thoughts and feelings that were never allowed to have a voice.
The more easily you express yourself, the more aware you become of what’s happening inside you. This moment-to-moment awareness makes it easier for you to use your imagination, your intuition, and your mind to answer questions about your health, your well-being, and the direction of your life. Poetry is a very powerful tool to engage with through therapy, as it frees your mind in a way that allows greater exploration of the most important issues in your life past or present.
Of course, you do not have to dive so deeply into lyric poetry. I would simply like to invite you to give it a try. Like my poem at the top, you too can explore the meaning of deep personal healing through the scribing (or writing, if you will) of a short four-line poem or through a haiku, free-verse, sonnet, or a stream-of-consciousness approach. Yours does not even have to fit any of the traditional formats.
Go ahead! Let that pen or pencil flow over the page and watch what unfolds. And if you wish for a little more guidance on such an activity, reach out to me and I would be honoured to help you.
Paul White, LMFT is a psychotherapist and owner of an online and in-person private practice in California.