8th September, 2020

Bookish Stuff: Why poetry is important (and good for your soul)

“Turning to poetry, poetry gives rhythm to silence, light to darkness. In poetry we find the magic of metaphor, compactness of expression, use of the five senses, and simplicity or complexity of meaning in a few lines.” (P. Klein)

My students always moan when I make them read poetry. Most of them have had bad experiences with poetry and the way it was taught in school, so when they get to university a large number of students is loath to study the genre in detail. They often think that there is just one "solution" to a poem, that they have to find that one deeper meaning. And normally they are surprised when I tell them to just enjoy the text and to then think about what it means TO THEM. Because what they fail to see is that poetry can be a lot of fun and that there are no clear-cut, formulaic ways to approach (and also to analyse) it. Poetry is not scary at all, and a positive side effect is that it is good for your soul. 

Particularly in a time when digital forms of media are omnipresent and when we can feel our attention spans shrinking, poetry has a very centreing and comforting effect. It is also great to develop verbal and written skills. Here are a few aspects that show the benefits of engaging with poetry:

1) Poetry can be therapeutic for the reader

Reading poetry can have a very soothing effect on the reader. Getting lost in beautiful language is comforting in itself, but reading poetry also allows one to see into the soul of another person, and can open doors to emotions that have frequently been suppressed until that door is opened. If you have trouble reading poetry by yourself because you don't know how to catch the rhythm or something else, try listening to others read it out loud. There are wonderful podcasts and apps out there where actors such as Tom Hiddleston or Helena Bonham Carter recite poetry and trust me: It's a treat! 

2) Poetry can be therapeutic for the writer

Poetry Therapy is a creative arts therapy using the written word to understand, and eventually communicate, feelings and thoughts. As poetry is normally short yet emotional, writers get in touch with feelings they might not have been aware of having until they put them down on paper. Depression and anxiety are among the top two mental illnesses being treated with poetry-therapy. Expressing how one feels can be extremely difficult, and poetry has proven to be one of the best outlets. Even if you are not suffering from a mental illness, poetry can help you overcome the everyday struggles of life. Just think back to your teenage years when everything seemed weird and uncertain and somehow unfair - I'm sure a lot of you wrote poems back then, didn't you?

3) Poetry makes you think about language and helps to understand it better

As poetry consists of short, but strategic sentences or phrases, it helps us to really think about the significance of every single word. The placement of a single word can completely alter the feel and meaning of a poem. Creating or reading poetry forces the writer or reader to consider and reconsider each verse. 

4) Poetry fosters compassion and helps us to better understand others

Understanding each other is and has always been a problem in societies, and miscommunication and resulting misunderstandings cause frustration. Reading and writing poetry has shown to give people an improved ability to understand others. Poetry gives us the opportunity to look into someone else’s mind and to develop compassion for another person. It makes us more sensitive in a way, which is a good thing. The world has enough tough people. What it needs is people who are not afraid to feel and who are able to empathise with others. 

5) Poetry helps you to find yourself

I've already mentioned the writing of poetry during the years of being a teenager. But of course this aspect applies to all stages of life. We all feel lost sometimes. We all can't seem to wrap our head around stuff at times. Poetry is a great way to tackle that inner turmoil. It slows you down and it slows down the world around you. It helps you organise your thoughts and to sooth your mind. Try reading one poem a day and you will feel more centred. 

6) Poetry fosters learning and helps to develop certain skills

Especially for children, a fun way to engage with poetry can be extremely beneficial. Poetry teaches rhyme and rhythm. Also, it teaches children creative expression, and provides them with a great tool for developing their personalities. Writing and speaking skills can be greatly influenced by the use of poetry. Learning rules for writing, and then breaking them with poetry, is fun. Speaking poetry while focussing on its beat, rhyme, and rhythm can improve verbal communication. Learning to understand poetry also provides kids with the mental capacity to understand complex written communication - something we all need on a daily basis.

So, even if you haven't been a fan of poetry until now, try and give it a go. You might be surprised by the positive effects it can have on you. :-) Last but not least: here is one of my favourite poems for you to enjoy:

Wendell Berry: The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

© Copyright The Constant Reader

All texts and photographs are mine, unless indicated otherwise.