Can Poetry Change Your Life?

young woman reading poetry by the shore

April is National Poetry Month, and I encourage you to explore poetry and allow yourself the opportunity to grow as a writer through it. It took me a while to want to do it myself, but it has changed my life.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Poetry changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. I now write it, read it, or teach it every day. It’s amazing how closed off to poetry I once was. In my experience, the way it was taught connected directly to stuffy, un-relatable poets. Complicated language. Totally abstract concepts.

Truth be told, I felt like an idiot by the time I’d reached the second paragraph of many of the poems I’d been presented with. There was no incentive to dive into a world when I felt like that world belonged to everyone but me, the idiot.

Poetry exposed my vulnerability

It took months to shift my perception. How did that shift occur? I went to an amazing creative writing graduate school program at Pacific Northwest College of Art. There I worked with, and was exposed to, a whole new surprising range of poetry; one filled with contemporary authors of color who broke structural norms and expectations of what I once thought poetry was. The freedom in form and expression was illuminating.

First, I had to believe that I was, in fact, not an idiot. I may joke about this, but my self-esteem related to my intelligence (and self-worth) was bruised and vulnerable. Poetry shined a light on this vulnerability and self-judgment in a way no other writing had. I had to get out of my head about old ideas of what poetry meant and for whom it was for. That took time.

Being exposed to poems where words felt accessible and familiar helped ease the doubt. Poems like “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo, and “Balances” by Nikki Giovanni felt more like me. Once I could access the language, or content relatability (or both), I could allow the meaning of the words to come forward. I could give a poem’s impending expression a chance to reach me. This open transmission between words on the page, and my heart, was crucial.

Feeling the words in poetry

As I read more accessible poetry, I started to feel things from the words. I began to feel seen and received gifts of emotions for things I’d been going through yet couldn’t name. It was like the song between the notes began to rise to a surface and I could hear them for the first time. Two poems where this heart connection became evident and blossomed were “Let Me Begin Again,” by Major Jackson, and “The Bell,” by Brandon Shimoda. The beauty of their craft left me breathless.

I had to read a lot of different and new poetry. There was plenty I didn’t like. Plenty I didn’t “get.” Plenty that still left me feeling like an idiot, but I didn’t dwell in frustration. I just moved on to read others. The more I read, the more patient and open I remained, and the more gems I discovered. I’d read a poem so beautiful and for a few moments or days after, I’d think about it; the poignancy of what was expressed in such a direct or unique way slayed me.

Seek poetry that speaks to you

As a writer, I marveled at how someone came to a sentence, or form, that was able to evoke such an unnamable human element. It inspired me to push my own writing approach to words and sentences. It inspired me to impart meaning through images. My writing began to take on new creative dimensions. I was hooked.

So, in the spirit of National Poetry Month — to expose, share, educate, and encourage people to explore the form — I’d like to leave you with a couple of things to think about. Language, and word access, make a tremendous difference. In fact, these made the difference between finding a receptive welcome mat versus a door closed in my face. Search for poets or poems that resonate and feel like you: your words, your perspectives, your writing aesthetic. This will impact your receptivity.

Explore, read, and write poetry

No matter what kind of writer you are — fiction, nonfiction, essayist — I strongly encourage you to go right now to poets.org and sign up for a poem a day to be received via email. I get a poem each weekday, which has exposed me to a lot of variety. I don’t read it every day, I don’t like every poem I receive, but I’ve discovered a bounty of meaningful, beautiful, and inspiring work. The diversity of expression has changed my writing game.

Be patient. Explore. Read a lot, write a lot. After all, creativity is meant to be enjoyed.

Above all, give expression a chance to come alive. Poetry just might become the surprising gift to make this happen.

Sometimes it only takes a few lines, or a few words, to make a poem — and they don’t have to rhyme. Here’s one I recently wrote. Let it be your poem for today. Unless, of course, you want to explore more or craft your own. Why not leave a poem in the comments? I’d love to hear from you.

if
you may wonder

if
i hear you

your

molten whispers
of corn,
stardust,
and seashell twilight
still echo

Your path to self-publishing

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I live amongst the shadows where faces are cast the same, silhouettes of insignificance, being without a name. I live amongst the shadows where purpose is no hope, the mortality of individuality is recited in anonymous quotes. I live amongst the shadows on a plateau where anonymity is bliss, but the abyss of a poem untitled, is proof that the poet exists. – Untitled

  2. Jellyfish Hybrid

    I’m reminded of the transparent, blue tinged
    Jelly fish washed up on the beach
    That reside in the back of my mind
    In long past childhood memories
    As I now see, two weeks hence,
    Since they’ve consumed the trash,
    Lying along the roadside, stranded,
    Numerous, bulbous, blue trash bags.
    We were told to leave them alone,
    Barefoot in bathing suits on the beach.
    Now I wonder as I drive by
    If these will be spared the brush hog’s reach?
    Or will they be sacrificed and scattered
    Needing to feed once more,
    These trash eating, hybrid jellyfish
    Inhabiting the road side instead of the sea shore?

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