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Self-Care: Why Not Give Poetry a Try?

- Wednesday, October 17, 2018

by MCF Clinical Supervisor Ronnie Biemans, MA, LCPC

The vibrant season.
Chroma of amber and rust.
Nature’s masterpiece.
– Robyn Noble

When we read this 3-line haiku poem on autumn, images of this season emerge in a different but very vivid way. Perhaps your memories of poetry involve school day English classes with required memorization that make it difficult to imagine poetry being a source of pleasure and emotional healing. History and science tell a different story.

We know that dating back some 4,300 years, written poetry is the most ancient record of human literature. The roots of poetry are likely to reach even much further into the past, to a time before the written word, as poems were passed down in oral traditions. The fact that poetry has endured over such a long period suggests a strong grip on human cognition and emotion.

In fact, recent research tells us that when examined using a variety of neuroimaging and behavioral assessments, “recited poetry can act as a powerful stimulus for eliciting peak emotional responses, including chills and objectively measurable goosebumps that engage the primary reward circuitry. These responses to poetry are largely analogous to those found for music.”

In addition to the engagement and joy experienced by many in our everyday reading and writing of poetry, psychotherapists have long used expressive therapies, including poetry, to facilitate self-expression, engage the imagination and establish body-mind connections in patients.

So consider adding a little poetry reading to your day. Read, savor and enjoy. Try to find the essence of it by simply listening to a poem being read aloud. Here are some tips from Poetry Archive to get you started:

  • Tip 1: Listening to poetry requires concentration in the same way that reading does, so finding somewhere quiet is preferable.
  • Tip 2: It might be helpful to listen to a poem first before following the text so that you can focus on the quality of the poet's voice - its unique tone, accent and rhythm. Closing your eyes might help this process.
  • Tip 3: Don't worry about understanding everything the first time you hear a poem; listening to poetry is more rewarding if you're relaxed, allowing the poet's voice and words into your mind, rather than worrying about a poem's meaning.
  • Tip 4: If you enjoyed a particular poem, you might like to read the text as you listen to a poet's interpretation a second time.
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
–by Martha Postlewaite

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