Reading Poetry for Mindfulness

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Sometimes the world feels too heavy, and when that happens, strong emotions can seem indescribable. You feel something, but you’re not sure what exactly. When your feelings become hard to understand, poetry can become your faithful companion. Poetical works can deliver within just a few lines the full range of human experience, helping you to clarify your feelings through another person’s words. Poetry does not serve one purpose; while it can help you determine how you are feeling, it can introduce you to ways of being in the world that are very unlike you, but in doing so, you may find what is missing in your life. 

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words

Robert Frost

Poetry has a reputation for being pretentious and painfully inaccessible and, while I don’t necessarily disagree, I want to emphasise that for therapeutic use, there will always be a poem out there for you. To enjoy the healing effects of poetry, you don’t have to be reading T S Elliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, nor the entire works of Lord Byron. You can still gain pleasure from poetry without unpacking it entirely; therefore, don’t feel pressured to know the difference between a Haiku and a Sestina, and it’s okay if you don’t recognise the poet using enjambment.

While I adore the intricacies of poetic form, and with respect to my literature degree, enjoy reading classical poetry such as Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ or ‘Lycidas’ by John Milton, that does not mean I don’t recognise the intimidation that comes with poetic exploration. Most people feel comfortable listening to music without understanding tonal systems, scales, or tuning; however, the same people will shy away from reading poetry on the condition that they don’t know the poetic theory.

I can’t stress enough how little expertise you need to be able to enjoy poetry. When reading for mindfulness, your main goal is emotionally understanding rather than academically understanding, which means you don’t need to get all the references, nor do you have to be right about what the poet is trying to say for it to mean something to you. Try and forget the robotic way schools have taught poetry, whereby the teacher forced their interpretations on you and where a colour could never be a colour. When reading for pleasure, you have the power to interpret words how you see fit, and while academically, your interpretation may be unconventional, that should not deter you from having your own personal relationship with a text. 

I’ve written some poetry I don’t understand myself

Carl Sandburg

Out there, there is a poem that will perfectly capture that specific feeling that you experienced on the tube the other day. There is a poem that will turn your ordinary into something entirely new and different. There is a poem that will put into words the grief you never thought you’d understand. A voice that will share that euphoric feeling that overwhelmed you when you were in love and a voice that recognises how you felt when you were deep in the mire of heartbreak. You just need to find it.

My Favourite Poems:

A Red, Red Rose– Robert Burns

Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow– William Blake

Outside– Robert Frant

Remember Body… – C. P. Cavafy 

I Sing The Body Electric– Walt Whitman 

I Like My Body and [I Carry Your Heart With Me(I Carry It In]– E. E. Cummings

Raw With Love– Charles Bukowski 

Mariana– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

La Belle Dame sans Merci– John Keats

The Drive Before Dawn and The Moths Don’t Die For Nothing– Iain S. Thomas

I read what you leave in public spaces. The songs you reference. The quotes you quote. I know it’s about me. I can feel you thinking of me. I want to tell you that I know and admit that I feel the same. But I can’t. Not yet.

Iain S. Thomas

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