“Poetry is the language of the soul,” writes Kim Rosen in her beautiful book Saved By a Poem. Poetry is vivid images, snapshots and sharp words. Like music, poetry is a direct pathway to the heart, which is to say that it’s a naked kind of expression. It is vulnerable and honest. There is rarely any restraint or pretense. Poetry is an emotion after an emotion after an emotion.
Poetry also is a helpful way to express ourselves. It’s another medium we can turn to. It’s another medium we can use to express our hearts. And it’s a medium where anything goes. We can be loose with language, with grammar, with rules. We essentially write about our hearts with our hearts.
There’s a great quote from poet Judith Minty in John Fox’s book Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making that speaks to this: “Everything I do in this odd business of writing poetry is based on intuition. I have no rules, only patterns that I fall into. Most of my reasons for doing what I do, craftwise, can be answered, ‘Because it felt right at the time.'”
Here’s one way you can express yourself through poetry—whether you’ve ever written a poem or not, whether you flunked a writing class or excelled, whatever your experience.
— Sit in a cozy chair or in bed, basically anywhere that’s comfortable and quiet.
— Have a journal or computer on your lap. If you have a computer, open a text file. Close any programs or tabs, and anything else that might distract you.
— Set a timer for 10 to 20 minutes. Sitting with yourself can feel uncomfortable initially, which means you might flee after a minute or two. Try to resist that urge. Try to swim with the discomfort, at least until the timer goes off.
— Put on music that provokes and stirs a kind of stillness or softness in you, something that unravels a layer or two (like this).
— Close your eyes.
— Keep your eyes closed the entire time you’re writing. Don’t worry about misspelling words or writing in the “wrong” spot. It doesn’t matter. The key is to connect to yourself, and closing your eyes is a simple, quick way to do that.
— Try to describe what’s happening in your body. Describe the actual sensations. You might use one-word descriptions: raw, jittery, explosion, warmth, cool, pounding, tension, pain. Jot down the thoughts that are flying about. Usually when we’re alone and our eyes are closed, our thoughts do fly, erratically, and bump into each other often. (That’s OK.) Or use a prompt (which you can decide on before setting the timer and closing your eyes). Here are a few examples: “The morning makes me feel …”; “This week I’ve been wondering a lot about…”; “If love were a color…” Or write about your dreams, hopes, fears. Explore what you need to explore. Often there are topics we need to make sense of. Topics that seemingly push themselves to the forefront. If that’s the case, start there.
— After the timer rings, open your eyes. Reread what you’ve written. Circle or bold the words or phrases that feel true, or that stay with you, that capture you somehow, that have their own energy.
— Give yourself another 10 to 20 minutes to edit your poem. Don’t worry so much about creating a “pretty” product. Focus more on truth. That is, focus more on creating a poem that feels as though it captured your complicated, mixed emotions or thoughts or observations. A poem that you could read at another time that would bring you back to today (or whatever moment or truth you’re talking about).
— When you’re done, speak your poem. Because, as Rosen writes, “Poetry was created to be experienced in the body and spoken aloud. Made of breath, sound, rhythm, meaning, and silence, a poem is a physical event. It needs a human body to give it life.” You might even ask someone you trust to read it aloud for you (if you’re ready).
If writing your own poem feels like too much right now, save this idea for another day. Instead, find a poem that feels like it was written for you, or about you, or about a moment in time that was true for you. You can search for all sorts of poems at the Poetry Foundation. When you do find a poem that speaks to you, write it down. Reread it from time to time. Maybe even memorize it.
Whether you choose to write your own poem or pick one that resonates with you, the important thing is that you’re connecting to yourself. Because that’s the foundation for everything, isn’t it?
This post was written in honor of National Poetry Month.