The Writing Cure: Poetry As a Tool for Self-Expression
Annie Dillard, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, says “the purpose of a book is to serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us.”
Language (and literature in particular) is a mirror of our world. It captures and reflects some of the deepest human emotions. Language is one of our most carefully crafted tools, a tool that we continue to reinvent, sharpen and expand in order to better express ourselves. And, since language is designed entirely around our needs of expression, it is arguably the best way to examine human life and ultimately connect with ourselves.
To take that idea a step further, poetry, being a concentrated form of language, could prove to be one of the most beneficial forms of literature to read and analyze.
Let’s take a look:
The Journey (excerpt)
by Mary Oliver
…the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.
And with that, we venture into the black hole of poetry. Now, we’re not just calling it a black hole because everyone who seems to like poetry wears black — we mean, quite frankly, that poetry is a vortex. Poetry envelops those who read beyond the Frost poems they learned in high school and keeps everyone else far, far away, in a distant orbit. But are people as far from poetry and its benefits as they think they are?
Kenneth Burke, an American literary theorist, said “stories are equipment for living.” This suggests that our language, and the stories we are able to create with it, are essential human needs, like food and shelter. We are a social species (why else would blogging be so popular?) and we relate to one another through stories, no matter the form (i.e. movies, novels, web posts or poetry). Stories are, in such cases, a social tool used to relate to one’s world.
What’s more, Professor Carol S. Pearson, PhD., and psychologist Hugh K. Marr, PhD., have discovered that people can significantly improve their lives through a process of identifying the story they are living. They outline twelve archetypal patterns that human life can emulate and have a self-test (the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator) to help people gain an objective view of the story of their life. If you are interested, check out one of their books, What Story Are You Living: A self-improvement guide for discovering and directing the unconscious influences that drive your life story. It is a detailed guide to self-awareness that demonstrates how stories can also be a tool to understanding yourself.
Unfortunately, poetry has developed “an aura of formality … that can make it seem pretentious, and irrelevant to our daily preoccupations,” says Robert Housden, author of poetry collections such as Ten Poems to Change Your Life, extraordinary poetry by some of the world’s most known poets. And exactly how can reading poetry change your life? Housden answers, “great poetry can alter the way we see ourselves. It can change the way we see the world. You may never have read a poem in your life, and yet you can pick up a volume, open it to any page, and suddenly see your own original face there…”