On Writing Poetry

Poetry, it seems, has a way of bypassing our defenses and getting to the heart of things. As such, I have recently been encouraging some Viet Nam veterans to write poems about their war experiences. None have hesitated and all have come up with powerful testimonies that evoked emotion as each veteran reads his poem.

I have written before about the creative impulse we all have, the Will to Create. Poetry for many is a powerful mode for expressing that Will.

For many of us, we have a favorite poem. Mine is Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” not just because of the beautiful imagery but because the concluding thought “I have miles to go before I sleep” speaks to me in deep ways. Other poems articulate important themes for me. When Frost writes “Two roads diverged in the wood/And I-  I took the one less travelled by/and that has made all the difference”, this captures for me the power of choice-making and the need to not dwell on “The Road Not Taken”. No one articulates my feelings about death like Dylan Thomas does when he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Poetry not only captures for us such spiritual themes. It can articulate a moment of joy or tragedy. It can express wonder or terror. Sometimes it is a way of honoring a particular image that haunts us. Some of my own poems have emerged from an encounter with an old coal miner as well as memories of my parents in their living room, my father reading the obituaries.

Here are two thoughts to get you started:

  1. Pick a sound you like and play with it. For example: Mmmm…..Mud…..My mucky mud…My mother minds my mucky mud/But I don’t!
  2. Select an experience and generate images. Here for example is a poem that emerged from a collection of images from a summer at a camp for children with cancer: Young men and women/Cooling their rage with laughter./An errant skunk./Missing limbs and haunting beauty/Loneliness here and there/in the eyes of campfire watchers./Thunder at 3PM./Sunrise — a glimpse of God’s smile/on little ones wise beyond their years./A sadness in places as word passes/that someone didn’t make it./Hope — joyful, shouting, prank-filled hope/given as a gift/by young teachers/to one who has so much to learn.

We all get self-conscious when undertaking something creativity, mainly because there is vulnerability involved. By sharing a poem, we allow someone a deeper look. As such, we don’t try, saying “Oh I can’t write poetry.” I encourage you to confront that fear, to nurture creativity, and to share the poems of your soul. It can be a type of prayer.

Reflections: 1. Do you have a favorite poem? What makes that poem special to you?

2. Do you write poetry? How does it nurture your soul? If not, what fears does it bring up?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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3 Responses to On Writing Poetry

  1. Mary Muntel says:

    Such a great piece, Rich! I rarely read poetry, though I believe it to be the highest of the arts. I did my thesis on the essential relatedness of art and theology. I found so many wonderful resources (on amazon) . I was focusing on this study but also on practical implications in liturgy, sacraments, etc. How wonderful to see how you have used art in your sessions. Stories, beauty, song, visual arts all speak to us profoundly. We encounter others and our deepest selves when we immerse ourselves in the arts. I will read more! I have heard works, though, in a couple of theology workshops this year. I’ll look them up and pass them onto you.

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  2. I could have shared a poem by Mary Oliver or Rumi or Hafiz or William Stafford or Denise Levertov—all my favorites, but I recently was gifted with this poem from Buddhist psychologist, John Wellwood called “Forget About Enlightenment.” It is truly enough.

    Forget about enlightenment.

    ‘Forget about enlightenment.
    Sit down wherever you are
    And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
    Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
    Open your heart to who you are, right now,
    Not who you would like to be,
    Not the saint you are striving to become,
    But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
    All of you is holy.
    You are already more and less
    Than whatever you can know.
    Breathe out,
    Touch in,
    Let go.’

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  3. susan beehler says:

    i discovered early on in my composing on different issues which might be considered a knee jerk issues…that i could write songs and create scenes that would allow folks to hear, see and feel issues ….it gave the audience time for feeling the experience …before having to make a judgement on issues…….musical poetry does that foe me…and i believe from experience….for others….thank you richard always for your insight and springs for the spirit stirrings……now that indeed as they say is a thread!!!

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