Haiku – Nature’s Poetic Voice
June 19, 2018
Haiku is simple enough for young children but complicated and intuitive enough to engage people of all ages and across cultures.
Haiku’s very short form consisting of only three lines may appear trite or non-sensical. But if that were so, it would not have endured for centuries and continue to be written in many languages and read throughout the world today.
Traditional Haiku contains 17 syllables arranged in three lines of five, seven and five syllables each. Haiku feels dream-like with most using sensory and nature-related imagery.
17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho is considered the first Haiku Master. During the 20th century, poets who brought Haiku to America – Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, Amy Lowell, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Jack Kerouac and others – helped spread the form throughout the Western world.
One of my early encounters with Haiku was during a workshop led by David Rosen, psychiatrist, Jungian Analyst, professor and poet. He recommended keeping the spirit of Haiku by writing three short, simple lines, focusing on detail and staying with one or two natural images.
Rosen and his friend and fellow poet Joel Weishaus shared a long-distance correspondence over two years writing a weekly paragraph describing a personal issue or specific event followed by their Haiku summary. Their book, The Healing Spirit of Haiku, is drawn from their collaboration.
Rosen said, “Haiku embodies aloneness, universality, humor, simplicity, courage, freedom and love. There are no explanations, no causes, no expanded stories…forever a mystery in exactly the same way our dream images remain mysteries.”
Like Haiku, our dreams are often brief, mysterious experiences that may benefit from the practice of writing Haiku. One very simple dream I recorded in my dream journal is an example. After mulling over my dream’s images, emotions and narrative, I composed a Haiku from my associations. I share this Haiku as an example of the form.
Ice glistens and cracks
As winter melts into spring
The closed door opens
Writing Haiku has the potential to bring about a sense of awe and gratitude. That is one reason I love to include Haiku for participants in my writing groups as a way to pinpoint essential qualities from their writing.
Group members typically spend 20 to 30 minutes or more writing personal thoughts as they respond to prompts. At the end of their stream-of-consciousness writing, they read and reflect on their own words. This pause allows them an opportunity to notice and reflect on what they have just discovered, sometimes for the first time. The final step is to create a haiku to crystalize new ways of thinking.
Columbia native David Rembert, Jr., Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at USC, recently published his book of personal poetry, titled “Haiku/Senryu: A Biologist View.” Rembert’s granddaughter Margaret Rainey Green created the beautiful illustrations and his daughter Augusta helped organize his work.
Rembert told me, “I have always loved poetry, but Haiku is relatively new to me. I try to spend a little time each day reading poetry and writing Haiku.
“The real value of the form of Haiku is that it enables the poet to create a mood, vision, feeling, or experience that requires work on the reader’s part, like a frame for a picture the poet creates.”
Haiku is the perfect form for a biologist-poet such as Rembert. British scholar R.H. Blyth speculated that the rhythm of the Haiku is a reflection on the rotation of nature’s seasons and patterns. Blyth wrote: “Haiku is poetry bared to its essentials with Nature at its heart.”
“Haiku/Senryu: A Biologist View,” David Rembert’s collection of 424 original Haiku poems is now available for purchase on Amazon.com where you can search for David Rembert. A link is available at www.susanhendricks.com/resources.
One reader commented on-line, “David Rembert uses words as he would a flashlight in a garden at night. He matter-of-factly offers up for us a succession of revelations.”
Take some time for yourself to pause and dig into a few verses of Haiku, slowly reading and writing several versions. It may open your eyes to new growth all around.
Susan Hendricks leads small groups and workshops for personal and therapeutic writing and is an online instructor for The Writing Institute of The Center for Journal Therapy. To read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper and locate links to books mentioned, visit www.susanhendricks.com.
Turn Travel into Pilgrimage
May 13, 2018
I love to walk. It’s always been my number one choice for exercise.
As a child my friends and I walked to school every day, explored the woods nearby and sometimes walked the couple of miles to and from downtown to shop or visit the library. We could walk wherever we wanted to go.
Years ago, I jogged until I discovered that my jogging wasn’t much faster than walking. A brisk walk is magic to clear the cobwebs in my mind and open space for creative thinking.
At midlife I discovered pilgrimage, the ancient practice of intentionally leaving a customary place in the world in order to discover new and potentially meaningful experiences beyond.
Seventeen years ago in May 2001, I joined a group traveling to Spain to experience The Archetype of Pilgrimage. I flew alone to Spain, met the group in Madrid and immediately boarded a bus to drive north stopping in ancient towns, visiting historic churches, and walking along three different segments of the centuries-old pilgrimage path, El Camino de Santiago. It was a guided tour with very little walking on the Camino. Every year since, I have wanted to return to walk as a pilgrim.
One day last fall, a friend listening to my repeated wish, said, “Who would you like to go with? Why don’t you ask them?” I asked and the answer was YES. The 1st stage of pilgrimage – The Yearning to Go – was complete and there was no turning back.
For seven months my friend Ann Braithwaite and I worked on the 2nd stage of our pilgrimage researching options, interviewing pilgrims who had made the trip, and preparing for the 3rd stage of our pilgrimage – The Journey – April 24th through May 7th when we flew to Spain to walk over 80 miles of farmlands, through pine, eucalyptus and chestnut forests, up and over rutted hillsides, crossing rivers over bridges and fording clear-flowing streams on foot.
Each day was unique. We moved steadily past every concrete Camino mile marker counting down the remaining kilometers to Santiago. It felt safe and appropriate to be in this strange land far from home.
Other pilgrims passed us on foot. Some sped by on bikes. Several on horseback. We heard the call and reply between pilgrims along the path, “Buen Camino” repeated often.
A 4th stage in pilgrimage is Contemplation. Continuous walking is the perfect setting for solitary deep thinking, allowing memories to surface, revising long-held opinions, offering thanks, asking for help. We created writing prompts.
1. With the topic “Release,” we asked ourselves: What do I want or need to give back or give away? Why do I hold on to certain things, thoughts, memories? How do I know something has outlived its usefulness?
2. “Hinges,” our second topic came in response to an unusual red church door with elaborate metal hinges. We asked: What helps me move easily or is holding me back? What keeps me in place? What in my life moves smoothly or squeaks loudly?
After all of the anticipation and preparation, the 5th stage in pilgrimage is the Encounter. Friends helped when they asked us to carry their individual gifts – a rock or a small token or saying – to leave at the right place along the trail – by a flowing stream, attached to a flowering vine, or perhaps beside the other rocks and letters left by previous pilgrims.
The 6th stage of Completion and Return began when we spotted Santiago, its magnificent cathedral anchoring the oldest quarter of town. In the square it’s easy to recognize pilgrims completing their walk – their hiking poles poised, well-worn boots still, eyes focused on the steeples, listening to bells while the jostling crowd celebrated.
American theologian, ethicist and professor Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys … Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion or perhaps the word clarity, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.”
“Salvitur ambulando,” St. Augustine’s words in Latin sum up our adventure – “It is solved by walking.”
Susan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, approved by the SC Board of Social Work Examiners to offer CEU’s to mental health counselors. Request notification of upcoming groups and workshops at www.susanhendricks.com/contact and read all previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper at www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news
How to Jumpstart Your Personal Writing
April 19, 2018
Writing for one’s self can be awfully important, but sometimes it isn’t easy. As soon as you tell yourself you’re going to write, grab your pen and paper and prepare to write, all of those incredible thoughts you had vanish.
Even many well-known writers report suffering from writer’s block when faced with a blank page. They may be tired or unmotivated, doubting themselves, trying too hard to make something perfect or fearing failure.
Not only professional writers, but also the rest of us are often blocked even before we begin to write. However, you can create your own source of inspiration to jumpstart your writing. This renewed writing may have far reaching benefits too.
Poet William Stafford makes it appear that personal writing is not only easy but also urgently needed. Scattered thoughts that you have written in your journal over time may ultimately offer you new-found meaning. This excerpt from his poem Keeping A Journal explains.
At night it was easy for me….
to sit late recording what happened that day….
More important than what was recorded, these evenings
deepened my life ….
As time went on…. everything
recognized itself and passed into meaning.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Way, reminds us that we don’t need anyone’s approval or endorsement when we write for ourselves. “Put pen on paper and keep writing…Get out of the way. Let it work through you. Accumulate pages, not judgements.”
Walt Whitman is supposed to have kept a box of his written snippets on scraps of paper. When the box filled, he grabbed some of the scraps for inspiration. If nothing worked at that moment, he put them back in the box for another time.
South Carolina poet Susan Meyers described her Word Bank, a box or jar filled with words and phrases that caught her eye. She printed them on small pieces of paper or cut examples out of magazines, newspapers, junk mail or personal memos. When she needed inspiration, she would draw a few words and notice how they fell together creating new meaning.
Poet and publisher Diane Lockward described her Bits Journal in her blog as “a collection of random images, childhood memories, dreams, snatches of overheard conversations, quotes from books or lectures, bathroom graffiti, mistranslations, thoughts that come out of left field, notes to yourself, etc.”
Instead of a box, Lockward keeps her “bits” on a word document on her computer.
“The bits journal is easy to fill. If you add three or four bits a week, in a couple of months your journal will be five or six pages long.”
My own “Word Box/Bits Journal” is contained in several boxes and a couple of file folders. They include a wide assortment of clipped images on glossy colored paper, cartoons and lists of words I’ve had to look up as well as intriguing metaphors – words that create imagery in my mind.
If collecting your own prompts isn’t for you, you’ll find enough inspiration in a couple of books that will keep you writing for as long as you wish. Here are two of my current favorite books.
A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves, writing teacher, creativity workshop leader and cofounder of the non-profit literary arts organization, San Diego Writers Ink, has over 245 pages divided into 12 months of articles and daily prompts, cross-referenced throughout to help you explore the topics she covers.
A new book from the Network for Grateful Living named Everyday Gratitude: Inspiration for Living Life as a Gift just published this month, includes one colorful hand-drawn affirmation with its source along with a unique and thoughtful writing prompt on every page.
Both books can be accessed at www.susanhendricks.com/resources.
Your journal can be much more than simply a recording of your day. Each entry is a new opportunity to add depth to your life in ways you can hardly imagine at the time. Authentic inner conversations with yourself on paper can act as your North Star guiding you home to your True Self.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, Susan leads small groups and workshops for personal writing and is also an online instructor for The Writing Institute. Visit www.susanhendricks.com to read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper.
Dreams are often poetry – Poetry is often dreamlike
February 11, 2018
Dreams and poetry have a lot in common – a belief I have held for over 20 years. In 1995, during a retreat I attended in Mexico, a noted American poet was also there and graciously shared from his life’s work. He read and recited his poems and led an afternoon workshop each day for a small group who chose poetry over all the other options.
During the day, my own poems seemed to be written effortlessly. Throughout the week, powerful and amazing dreams flowed nightly and continued long after I returned home. Fascination with both poetry and dreams still engages and intrigues me all of these years later.
I’ve discovered a range of ideas that link dreams and poetry in a variety of ways. The list below is representative of these connections, arranged in no specific order of importance:
· Both dreams and poetry use a language of image, metaphor, emotion and symbol.
· To benefit from either dreams or poetry, you have to be fully present.
· When you engage with your dreams and also when writing and thoughtfully reading poetry, you will be fully in the moment.
· It’s important to quickly write your dream or versions of a poem before the words are lost.
· They both enhance creativity and expansion of human awareness.
· Their deepest meaning is carried in the unconscious mind.
· It’s necessary to pay as much attention to what is not said as to what is said.
· As dreams and poetry both go deeply into the unconscious to allow insight to surface, they can assist in healing past trauma as well as disease.
· Experiencing the language and imagery in poetry and dreams may be less threatening than directly hearing something difficult to admit to one’s self.
· Both are companions in dark times and can help uncover meaning.
Poet David Whyte’s explanation of poetry could just as well describe dreams.
“The discipline … is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat…all are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable, but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time.
When you wake from an especially powerful dream, writing a poem with some of the dream’s emotion, language and imagery may offer you a different way to understand and appreciate the dream’s significance.
A Little Nightmusic: The Narrative Metaphor is a writing exercise to create a poem from one of your dreams or from a strange waking event. Poet and teacher, T. Alan Broughton shared this exercise in The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, edited by Robin Behn & Chase Twichell.
- Recall a dream or some strange event in your life.
- Write down the facts of the remembered dream or event just as you recall it.
- Reread what you have written.
- Notice the details – only details – and jot them down randomly.
- Do not generalize or make associations to meaning, but stick to the details.
- Choose details that describe the tone or the emotional core of the incident or dream.
- Imagine and invent a scene that is not your exact memory but is set in the same location as the scene.
- Make the tone of this new incident contain a significant contrast to the previous dream or event.
- Do not generalize, but note a grab bag of facts concerning the action, plot, basic narrative of the event or dream.
THEN, using as many of the words and images from those you have accumulated –
- Write a short narrative poem that
- combines or superimposes these two incidents.
- Do not try to be logical or coherent as you put the pieces together.
Your final piece may be as different from the first two versions as you like.
When you work with this exercise, allow enough time. Over the years, your poem may continue to provide further insight. Poems I wrote long ago based on this exercise still have resonance and meaning that I find helpful today.
Read all of Susan’s previous articles in the Columbia Star Newspaper at www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist, Susan leads writing groups and is an approved provider of CEU’s for mental health counselors by the SC Board of Social Work Examiners.
Dream Work Express – Online Class
Dream Work Express – Offered through the Therapeutic Writing Institute, January 18 through March 14, 2018
Online Class – Work at your own pace.
In this class, we will use the spontaneity and variety of expressive arts techniques created especially for dream work. Don’t interpret or judge your dreams, but accommodate and cherish the contradictory messages you receive while asleep. Journaling and sharing your dreams and insights can deepen your understanding of your past, present and future. This practice may also ignite your intuition and enliven your search for a more authentic life. CEUs Available.
REQUIRED TEXT: The Art of Dreaming: Tools for Creative Dream Work, by Jill Mellick.
Tradition and Ritual for Everyone’s Holidays
November 17, 2017
The Holiday Season has arrived. It might seem that it began months ago when the shelves in most stores around town filled with red and green decorations and gifts. To me, Thanksgiving feels more like the official beginning of the season.
Growing up, my family’s annual Thanksgiving tradition was to feast at noon on turkey and all the trimmings with special friends and neighbors. After the oldest of us left home for college, our ritual changed from the dining room table to tailgating and cheering for the football team. We had family and friends with plenty of food, games and fun – What could be better?
Many of our holidays would not be the same without their time-honored rituals, but do these rituals benefit everyone?
Thanksgiving is a state of mind and is not necessarily a fun-filled day of celebration. Dark emotions can be magnified in anyone who is feeling lonely or sad while everyone else appears especially happy and celebrating.
Joan Chittister, a leading voice in contemporary spirituality, says, “Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. We all have traditions, habits, rituals, routines. The only question is whether they make life more or less meaningful.”
Rituals and traditions symbolically bring us into our community and family as well as into ourselves. They mark the changes in life and are important in good times as well as in bad.
It’s worth thinking about alternative traditions and rituals. Not to forgo favorites, but to create appropriate new ones that include everyone.
Rituals offer –
· Continuity and community in times of celebration
· Order and clarity in times of change
· Relief and comfort in times of anxiety and
· Integration and healing in times of loss
Chade-Meng Tan, Google engineer and author of the book Joy on Demand, shares some tips that may help anyone having difficulty getting into the spirit when everyone else appears to be especially happy.
He recommends that you focus on the smallest momentary pleasures already in your day. Pay close attention to “any fleeting moments of joy in life that are not super intense.” Your very first taste of a favorite treat or the moment you stand under a warm shower or sink into a relaxing bath.
Tan suggests that you choose a few random people whether you know them or not and send them your positive thoughts and wish them well. “Being on the giving end of a kind thought is rewarding. You’ll be happier than you were five seconds ago.”
“All you have to do is notice the joy and bring attention to the pleasantness. A bad mood is like being in a dark room, while those little moments of joy are like candles.”
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recommends starting a One-Sentence Journal. “Your sentence can be about anything – something beautiful, hilarious, whatever. It keeps you accountable without making happiness feel like a chore.”
You don’t have to buy a journal if you plan to write only one sentence a day. A couple of sheets of paper may be enough for the whole year.
But if you want to fully engage in writing only a few thoughts each day, The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day can be your excellent companion. To order a copy click The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day by Intelligent Change.
Let this holiday season be meaningful and beneficial as you take part in your favorite celebrations – Thanksgiving, Milad un Nabi, Bodhi Day, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve and others, all occurring in the last weeks of 2017.
Let’s continue to keep our spirits up well into the New Year and beyond with thoughtful attention and joy.
Susan Hendricks, LISW-CP and CJT, leads guided writing groups and workshops. She will lead two different half-day workshops – November 19th https://www.susanhendricks.com/events/journal-writing-workshop-nov-19th and December 9th https://www.susanhendricks.com/events/journal-writing-retreat-12-9-2017. CEUs available for licensed mental health workers. You are invited!
The Kindred Spirit’s Mailbox-by-the-Sea
August 18, 2017
Coastal shorelines change and shift with the tides and storms, but some things manage to stay the same – with a little help from their friends.
A black mailbox staked in the dunes on the North Carolina side of Little River Inlet has withstood the assaults of Nature for over 38 years while it continued its unique mission. It has been on my wish-list to visit for a long time.
So a month ago, I hiked the long stretch of white sand beach beside Bird Island Reserve toward the inlet in search of this mysterious mailbox with its red flag always up. It sits among natural dunes separating the beach from the scrub oak-covered wetlands of the reserve. The only sounds were from wind and sea, wading birds and gulls.
The Kindred Spirit is more than a mailbox. It’s a wishing well, a treasure chest, and a psychotherapist, all in one. You can tell it anything and leave some of your heavy thoughts among the sand dunes as you walk away feeling better.
I brought paper and a pen to leave my message but didn’t need them after all. The mailbox is stuffed with composition books, with some pages still blank. Locals speculate that over 100,000 people have left messages here over the years.
I opened one notebook and read some of the entries written just before I arrived. A man assuring himself that life was still good since the recent death of his wife. A woman returning many times to ask for guidance. A child’s hand describing a great vacation. Everything from tears to cheers fill the pages and draw a vivid picture of our shared humanity.
I’ve written here before about the power of an Unsent Letter. Here you see a living example. The Kindred Spirit invites anonymous writing to relieve psychological pressure and untangle difficult decisions.
In a June 2015 article in North Carolina’s magazine, Our State, writer Katie Quine described, “Much of the mailbox’s magic is that those who write in its journals can remain as anonymous as they’d like to be… A blank page is an immeasurable gift in life, and the Kindred Spirit has journals filled with them. Redemption clings to the air like salt here, where friends of the Spirit trust it enough to confess wrongdoing, admit mistakes, and seek forgiveness.”
Some still think that the people responsible for this mailbox remain a mystery, but that’s no longer a secret. How else would we know about the special collection of journal pages conserved at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington library, its Facebook page, or published magazine and television news interviews?
It seems that 90-year-old, Frank Nesmith, was in on it from the beginning, although he gives credit to “Claudia,” a girlfriend from his youth with whom he kept in touch until her death in 2013. Her vision of a mailbox by the sea in the sand, inspired the two friends to plant their first mailbox at the north end of Sunset Beach. The shifting coastline forced them to move it to Bird island in 1983 where it has been ever since even though, at an earlier time, people had to swim across a tidal creek or wait for low tide to reach their destination.
It was also Claudia who named Kindred Spirit. In a letter to Frank, Claudia explained, “The Kindred Spirit is a way of being – not a person” and she signed it from “Your Friend, K.S.”
Do you want to know more? Go to Facebook’s page, “Kindred Spirit Mailbox,” and search Trip Advisor’s 100% ratings from visitors who have shared their thoughts with K.S.
And don’t miss this CBS News interview from June 23, 2014, with Frank Nesmith and his helper, Jacqueline DeGroot at http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/uncovering-the-mystery-of-the-kindred-spirit-mailbox/
It just might make your day!
Susan’s next journal writing groups begin September 7th. For information and to Register, click www.susanhendricks.com/events/new-fall-writing-groups-2017 Meetings are held in downtown Columbia, SC. Susan is a local Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist associated with www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com
Sudden Insight – a Gift for a Writer
May 19, 2017
You can’t always plan for it. While struggling to find the right words, some writers hope a stroke of genius will arrive in the nick of time – a flash of insight to save the day. When it comes, you slap your forehead and say, “why didn’t I think of this before?” at the same time feeling a rush of energy through your body. Your pen or keyboard take on new life and writing begins to flow.
Instant knowing – a Creative Leap – Sudden Insight. Those lucky enough to have this experience report feeling as if they’ve been hit by a bolt of lightning, overtaken by a hypnotic state or trance, or even heard the voice of angels or of God.
· Robert Frost wrote the first draft of his best-known poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening in June 1923. He composed the entire poem in just a few minutes almost without lifting his pen off the page. He explained, “It was as if I’d had a hallucination.”
· The creator of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, recalled how Harry and his story “came fully formed” in her mind while she was on a cross-country train trip. With no pen to take notes, she sat for four hours thinking and hoped she would remember, then started writing as soon as she got home.
· William Blake did not take credit for writing his long poem Milton. “I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty lines at a time, without pre-meditation and even against my will.”
· Edna O’Brien, Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, completed her first novel, Country Girls, in just 3 weeks. She said, “It wrote itself. My arm just held the pen.”
Researchers describe this experience as a two-step process:
1) an impasse before the breakthrough, as well as
2) a feeling of certainty that accompanies the idea.
“It’s one of those defining features of the human mind, and yet we have no idea how or why it happens. As soon as it happens, it just seems so obvious. People can’t believe they didn’t see it before… Once that restructuring (in the brain) occurs, you never go back,” according to Mark Jung-Beeman, a researcher seeking an understanding of insight by studying the human brain over three decades.
He observed two phases within the brain that can be detected at the moment of insight:
1) a Preparatory Phase – when specific brain cells are activated and
2) a Search Phase – just when the brain is going to give up, an insight appears along with a burst of brain activity.
Another crucial ingredient in this process is relaxation. Trying to force an insight can actually prevent it.
Researchers recommend immersing in the problem until there’s an impasse, then take a walk or find a relaxing way to distract yourself as you let your mind wander. The answer will arrive when you least expect it.
Research also supports the idea that a good mood helps increase the likelihood of insights, a point made a century ago when Albert Einstein wrote, “Play is the highest form of research.”
There are two caveats to consider. First – if you rely on certain drugs to help you focus, these drugs may prevent an insight because they sharpen your attention and discourage mental rambling. Second – don’t work straight through over too many hours or even days.
Some of the most accomplished people in history worked only a few hours a day, but when they worked, it was with intense focus. A typical day in Charles Darwin’s life would include several walks throughout the day as well as a nap after lunch. He did his serious work during 90-minute intervals in the early morning and again in the afternoon. Even with his abbreviated work schedule, Darwin’s broad research resulted in 19 published books including his history-making “Origin of Species.”
All of this suggests that if you need Instant Insight, lighten up and enjoy yourself while you work.
Susan Hendricks leads guided journal-writing groups in Columbia as a SC Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Journal Therapist endorsed by the International Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy. For more information, visit: www.susanhendricks.com or www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com
Celebrating Our First Language – Poetry
April 21, 2017
Lullabies and rhymes heard in childhood provided our first experiences of poetry. Think back. Can you recall a song, a book or poem you heard countless times, or a favorite bedtime story? “The mother speaking to the child is also a poem,” according to poet Naomi Shihab Ney.”
My good friend Jane Dorn has kept separate journals for each of her grandchildren over the years to record their memorable words and clever phrases – those precious early associations we love to hear but quickly forget if not written down. Poet Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, in her book “poemcrazy: freeing your life with words” says that she too records her own children’s sayings in her journal.
But as children grow, someone – a teacher, sibling, parent, even a stranger – may criticize early attempts. That’s when many put down their pencils and abandon poetry.
You can reignite that early fire if you choose, and today is the perfect time during National Poetry Month. Read some or write a few lines to celebrate the “Bard of Avon,” William Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23 born in 1564.
Reading poetry is just as important – even more so than writing your own poems when you are beginning. Make reading poetry a habit – especially contemporary poets. This practice will help you develop your own voice even as you imitate others at first.
“One of the qualities essential to being good at reading poetry is also one of the qualities essential to being good at life: a capacity for surprise.” (Poetry Magazine, July-August 2011)
Pamela Spiro Wagner’s poem, “How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual” offers some good advice.
First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you …..
Do not assume meanings hidden from you ….
Read just one poem a day
someday a book of poems may open in your hand
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.
Poetry is visceral – you feel it in your bones. Emily Dickinson described her own experience:
“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
Poet Kwami Dawes shared his view during a half-day workshop I attended at USC in 2002.
“A poem begins with its own energy – not a point. We don’t control it. It must be a discovery for the poet and the reader.”
Here’s an exercise from poet Richard Jackson found in “The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach,” Behn and Twichell, Editors. Try it for fun.
First spend 5 to 10 minutes free-writing as you remember a person you know well.
Next, spend 5 to 10 minutes more free-writing to describe a place where you imagine you might find this person.
Re-read what you’ve written. Sit quietly for a minute or two noticing your breathing to ground and center yourself. Then write your poem following these five steps.
1. Describe the person’s hands.
2. Describe something he or she is doing with the hands.
3. Use a metaphor to say something about some exotic place.
4. Mention what you would want to ask this person in the context of 2 and 3, above.
5. The person looks up at you and gives an answer to your question.
I include some poetry in almost every session of the Journaling Groups I lead. Poetry has the power to tap our deepest thoughts and emotions offering incredible healing opportunities.
Take time to enjoy poetry today. Make a plan to read more every day – or at least as often as you can – once a week or once a month. You’ll be surprised to learn that poetry has waited patiently for your return. You’ll feel the embrace.
Books mentioned are linked on my website at www.susanhendricks.com/resources
Susan Hendricks leads guided journal writing groups in Columbia as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Journal Therapist and Certified Dream Group Leader. To contact Susan and learn more, go to www.susanhendricks.com or www.wholistictherapyandcoaching.com