Reclaiming the Ancient Power of Poetry
I absolutely love a magazine called The Sun. It is an ad-free, monthly publication of short stories, poems, and photography and each issue begins with an interview with someone who is always really interesting. The December issue featured an interview with a woman named Kim Rosen, a poet and teacher of poetry who wrote a book called, Saved by a Poem.
I don’t regularly read poetry, and often skim the poems in the issues of The Sun in favor of getting to the stories. One of the reasons I don’t give the poems more attention is because I’ve always felt that I don’t have time to decipher them. Reading Rosen’s interview, she touches on this idea of people avoiding poetry because they feel they “don’t understand what it means”, and says some really cool things about the emotional power of poetry! She suggests that we expand our definition of the word “understand” saying that “poetry is the stuff of the right brain – the ineffable, the emotional, the relational – arriving dressed up in the costume of the left brain: words”.
Because poems are made up of words, we often believe we need to “get” them on a verbal level in order to enjoy them, but Rosen has a different take on this. It’s not that the words and their meaning aren’t important, but that the overall experience of reading a poem including how it makes us feel, its rhythm, its imagery, etc. are equally important. Rosen says, “Most poems are working on multiple levels at once, not just through the rational mind”.
I found that a pretty liberating idea, but even more liberating, were Rosen’s discussions of the power of poetry for personal inspiration, connection with others, and social change. I had not heard of this before, but in 2008 a poetry competition called “Freedom Space” was held in war torn Baghdad where Sunnis and Shiites came together, put their differences aside, and expressed themselves to each each through poetry. This public reading of poems demonstrated that both groups of people had essentially the same pain, the same longings, the same joys, and the same dreams, and provided a powerful bridge for these two groups to begin relating to one another. Rosen suggests that poetry has the power to facilitate connection between people because of its ability to express a deep, emotional wisdom about our shared experiences as human beings.
I’m always looking for ways to find inspiration in my daily life, and giving more attention to poetry in all its forms (songs, nursery rhymes, sayings, etc) really spoke to me. In fact, when you start looking for it, poetry is pretty much everywhere! I’ll close with this quote from William Carlos Williams, “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.”
Thanks for reading!
To read more about Freedom Space, check out this story on NPR:
To read a section of this interview, and to take a look at The Sun magazine click here: