The Power of Poetry

By Helene Cooper, LCSW-C

Words have power.  They represent the way our minds and hearts process our past and present experience of the world, and impact how we will feel about our lives in the future.  When we are whole and feeling connected to those we love, and when we feel at peace and in harmony with our place in the world and with ourselves, the words in our minds are positive.  These positive words then feed and strengthen our hopes and dreams, our gratitude, our prayers and our love.  When we are sad, lonely, overwhelmed by stress and worry, or grieving our losses, the words in our minds can increase our pain and suffering as we tell ourselves that we are miserable, alone, and lost.  When we find ourselves in that dark place, it can be very difficult to stop the cycle of negative thinking and negative self-talk.

If you recognize that you are a person who is trapped in that cycle, that awareness may already have led you to seek help.  There are many paths to healing a troubled mind.  The word “therapy” comes from the Greek word “therapeia,” which represents the concept of healing through the expressive arts.  The word “psychology” breaks down as “psyche” or soul, and “logos” or words.  The goal of talk therapy is to use communication and relationship to build self-knowledge and self-awareness, strengthening our ability to navigate difficult times.  Poetry can also be a tool for healing through words, strengthening our relationship to ourselves through our connection and understanding of the meaning of the poem.

A poem can open a window in your heart and mind, letting in light and fresh air, and the awareness that you are not alone.  A poem can also help you recognize that others have felt what you are feeling.  The poet is able to express in words those universal experiences of pain, loss, and suffering, as well as evoke the joy and beauty that is around us every day.  Reading poetry can soothe and inspire, reminding us that language is a powerful tool that can help us find meaning on our challenging path through life.  Poetry can resonate with what we already believe, or it can challenge us to open to other ways of looking at life and our experience of it.

I offer you an excerpt from a poem written by one of the many poets who have soothed and inspired me.

From Derek Walcott, “Love After Love”

The time will come

When, with elation,

You will greet yourself arriving

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here, Eat.

This poem speaks to self-acceptance and self-knowledge and represents how words can offer healing.  When you find yourself stuck, revisiting negative experiences and worrying about what will happen next, I hope you will consider picking up a book of poetry.  A poem just might help you get a fresh perspective, or maybe inspire you to write your own poem, understanding that words have power.

JCS is offering a two-part program, Poetry at Play, March 28 & April 4, 2024 via Zoom.  Join us on a journey of self-exploration. No experience is necessary.  Click HERE to learn more. 

Helene Cooper, LCSW-C, now retired, was a clinical therapist at JCS.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence.  To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.

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