The Second Reason to Write Poetry

The second primary reason to write poetry is to heal, oneself first of all, and others secondarily, if they able to read your words and take strength from, and identify with, your situation. Healing and poetry have been soul mates from the beginning: the god Apollo was the god of healing and the father of the Nine Muses of poetry, and specifically, inspiration.

We need to bear in mind that there are three fundamental desires of the human spirit, or soul if you will: the desire for meaning, for truth, and for beauty. And these three intangible concepts are not isolated systems or mutually exclusive; at their greatest moments all three are present in the greatest works of art and poetry, and they interact with each other. A simple example would be looking at a stupendous scene of nature: we are overwhelmed by its beauty perhaps in the first place, but oftentimes we also sense that that beauty stems from a deep meaning or purpose in the heart of things.

For now, if we consider the primary reason of healing for writing poetry, then it is clear that we write in that way for meaning and truth, and that the beauty – the sheer art of poetry – is less evident and important. In fact it is the focus on the beauty that constitutes our third primary reason, which we will discuss in our third blog on this topic.

So, writing poetry in order to heal oneself – how is this possible? One way of approaching this is to go in reverse and ask ourselves why we are sick? In dysfunctional families two conditions always appertain. First, the expression of what one truly feels is always forbidden; your own feelings must be subordinated to the feelings and welfare of others. This is particularly true and pernicious when one is a very young child and a parent or parents severely stricture, and so eventually prevent, the child from saying what he or she feels. It is unacceptable, for example, to dislike one’s sibling, or to express anger towards some obnoxious relation who provokes one regularly; and one consequence will be the parent induces guilt and shame in the child for such feelings. The result of all this is a disconnect between what you think and what you feel – and what you feel is invalidated, which means you are invalidated.

Alongside this, dysfunctional families always have ‘secrets’: these are things – usually to do with the (mis-)behaviour of family members – that cannot be spoken about. The family wants to appear normal, like other people, like other families – as ‘good’ as them – and so there is an unwritten code that this must be never discussed. In short, there is a suppression of the truth of what is really going on; another disconnect in other words.

What has this to do with the healing of poetry? Everything! What poetry is doing is providing a mechanism in which the self can express freely, truthfully and accurately what it has heretofore repressed or kept only in the conscious mind – the conscious mind being limited and furthermore a source of anxiety. This is not easy; the more clogged the conscious mind is with suppressing feelings, repressing truth, and trying to counter the meaninglessness that results from such activities, then the more it is likely – if it is writing at all – to resort to cliché and banality to express itself. However, poetry is a discipline – given the time and the silence to go deep, and given line breaks and the freedom to experiment with language as a condition of the art, people can truly come to express themselves, sometimes for the first time, and then on and ever in real terms in their lives.

Poetry, then, becomes the medium for meaning and for truthfulness, and this is cathartic. It washes away negative emotional and sometimes negative spiritual residue. Furthermore, it is compelling, because the poet has become an author – a writer is an author, and an author is an authority; it is the same root word. We are becoming the authors of our own lives; this is empowering and simultaneously energising. And as we read our own words – if they are words of meaning and truth – we can believe them, and so we begin that slow process of hypnotising ourselves into the good and better life that is possible. A life where we are healed and healing. The words on the page – the poem – become the record of our journey, and what a journey that is for all of us: to find meaning and to experience truth in our essential being – that is healing.

In the third and final article on the primary reasons to write poetry I shall discuss poetry as art, which is as much as to say, the expression of the truly beautiful.

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