The Power of Poetry

I’ll admit that I wasn’t much into poetry growing up. In school, it seemed as if poetry was used as the vehicle to enhance our memorization skills, and that was fine with me. I found memorizing poems easy; understanding what the poet was trying to say, impossible.

So once I finished high school, I probably never read another poem until just a few years ago – a span of nearly 40 years. It was around the time that I started blogging, and consequently started to read other bloggers. For some reason, many of the bloggers I ended up following were either poets, like Brad Osbourne, or featured the work of well-known poets on a frequent basis, like David Kanigan.

I started to develop a new appreciation for poetry, and great respect for poets, thanks to the blogging community.

And so when I saw the headline “The best way to start your work day: Read a poem“, an article on Quartz by Anne Quito, I felt compelled to read it.

The first paragraph really hit home, and brought back memories of grade school:

Reading poetry is a willful act. Making sense of strange groupings of words requires an agile form of listening—one that can bridge ambiguity and keep pace with a poet’s linguistic leaps.

Back then, I wasn’t willing to put the effort into making sense of poems, and without the effort, the poems were indeed just a strange grouping of words.

But Pádraig Ó Tuama, an Irish theologian, poet, and the host of the new podcast Poetry Unbound, notes that:

“it is precisely these skills that make poetry pleasurable, and also useful in the workplace. In poetry, one allows ambivalence and ambiguity of multiple meanings to coexist. It creates space for hospitality and complexity.” 

He believes that business professionals may have a latent facility for poetry:

“I think business people are used to looking at complex ways in which we use language, like in a negotiation,” Ó Tuama explains. “Even the whole idea of elevator pitch in a certain sense is a form of poetry. How can you say something, succinctly, that’s so compelling that it gets the imagination going.”

Ó Tuama experienced how starting each day with poetry can infuse a kind of lyricism to the most quotidian managerial tasks.

“I spent an hour and a half looking at the mystery of language and that has actually really helped me. I was able to bring myself with imagination to questions and look at language that was being used for HR, governance, fundraising, and communication. For me, poetry is really practical in the sense that it grounds you in what’s possible with language.”

John Paul Lederach, a Mennonite conflict mediator, likes to write meeting notes and trip reports in haiku form. The act of distilling information to a five-seven-five syllable format is a way to “capture the wonder of the human experience in the simplest of terms.” explained Lederach during a 2018 gathering in California.

At a certain time in my peace-building journey, sitting close to and with human suffering, little by little I was experiencing a deadening of my soul. Sometimes we call this ‘burnout…It’s amazing how something you learn in the second grade could become the light that enlivens the spirit. As an adult second-grader, my rediscovery was in understanding haiku as a contemplative practice, the seeking of the haiku attitude; that is, to prepare yourself to be touched by beauty, the noticing of the haiku moment that is the aha when the world is revealed for what it is.

Reading that makes me want to start writing some haikus.

It appears that I am not the only one with a newly found interest in poetry

A 2017 US National Endowment of the Arts study showed that poetry readership has skyrocketed, especially among young adults.

Celebrated podcast host Krista Tippett, whose company produces Poetry Unbound, attests that poetry-themed editions of her own show are very popular with listeners.

“Since the 2016 [US] election, there’s been a massive increase in downloads,” she says. “When societies are fractured, poetry always rises.”

So perhaps that’s also what has drawn me to poetry – its contemplative nature in a time of upheaval.

Thank you to all the poets and poetry-sharing bloggers out there who have raised my awareness of the power of poetry.

*image from the Poetry Shed

15 thoughts on “The Power of Poetry

  1. This was such an insightful post! I have loved poetry for as far back as I can remember, and it’s funny, I’ve been starting my day with a poem for the last couple of years now. poetry.org has a poem a day they share every morning, and I absolutely love it. It’s a great way to not only discover new poets, but reconnect with the classics!
    Thanks for sharing!!

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  2. Your thoughtful post has taught me more about the craft I love, and the insights to the practical application and benefits of poetry only helps to reassure my own belief in its intrinsic value. Your mentioning me is an honor that leaves me searching for words to express my thanks. But searching for words is kind of what I am used to. You have already written some strong haiku before, so I know there is more in you somewhere. You have paid great homage to every person who has ever attempted verse, and on behalf of us all, I thank you most sincerely! Your are a valued and respected friend!

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed it, Brad. And as I’ve noted before, I have no idea how you can come up with wonderful original poetry every day. It is unbelievably impressive. And I thank you for your Friday lessons in poetry, it’s made me appreciate the art form even more.

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  3. I live less than two miles from one of Robert Frost’s former homes that is now a Robert Frost Museum and home of a summer workshop of aspiring poets. Robert Frost is a highly respected poet who mastered the skill of poetic metre —
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metre_(poetry)

    Frost would not have much respect for post-modern poets who display zero skill in writing poems in metre.
    Writing poetry today is like modern art — where a banana peel duck taped to a wall in an art museum was recently acclaimed as great art.
    I really enjoy reading the poems of Robert Frost and the Frost Summer Workshop poets who make writing a skilled craft.

    Robert Frost Museum Down the Road from Our Cottage —
    http://faculty.trinity.edu/rjensen/tidbits/FrostMuseum/FrostMuseum01.htm

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  4. I’ll jump in here. The word sonnet is derived from the Italian word “sonetto,” which means a “little song” or small lyric. In poetry, a sonnet has 14 lines, and is written in iambic pentameter. Each line has 10 syllables. It has a specific rhyme scheme, and a volta, or a specific turn. Generally, sonnets are divided into different groups based on the rhyme scheme they follow. The rhymes of a sonnet are arranged according to a certain rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme in English is usually abab–cdcd–efef–gg, and in Italian abba–abba–cde–cde.

    Although, I too, can find the beauty, creativity, and expression in more modern poetry, even those bordering on prose, I have a special place in my heart for closed form poetry. And to think that no modern poets continue this faithful tradition or pay homage to the wordsmiths before them by continuing to write in form is near-sighted, at best. Good art, old and new, is out there, but you will have to put down an overintellectualized expertise to see it.

    Sorry, none of that rhymed…😁

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  5. I really like your blog. A pleasure to come stroll on your pages. A great discovery and very interesting blog. I come back to visit you. Do not hesitate to visit my universe. A soon.

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