Uncover the power of writing poetry as a way to discover the heart of your pain, and to heal from it in this excerpt from Jacqueline Suskin's Every Day is a Poem: Find Clarity, Feel Relief, and See Beauty in Every Moment.
Poems don’t just create a shared understanding of awe or lead us into sensual wonderment, they also help us to uncover our pain and heal as we face the depth of our individual and collective ache.
Poetry is therapy, whether you’re reading it, writing it, or simply evoking it in thought patterns and perspectives. Through poetry we touch the places that are too painful to linger in, we sift through our feelings of trauma, and we expose ourselves to the fact that we are not alone in this hurt.
Are you brokenhearted and angry? There's a poem for that.
Here is the place, on the page, where you can let your inner fire burn as hot as you want, to witness it letter by letter, and to know it better. Shout each word aloud. Throw the page into the fireplace after you write. Seal your ramble in an envelope and tuck it away to revel in after you’ve found more healing. Just get your anger out, and let poetry be your container.
Are you mourning the loss of a loved one? Write a poem to let the pain loose.
You’re a bottle that cannot hold the pressure
of this sadness. Your grief truly needs
nothing from you but gentleness, no matter
how demanding it feels. Your process can be
as slow as you like.
This is where a mantra of poetry can be of great assistance. Say a line over and over to remind yourself of what was beautiful about this person, what they taught you, what they left behind for you, and what work they’re asking you to do in their absence.
Single lines of clarity about life, death and loss, emptiness and pain, all of it can keep you company in your darkness, not as light perhaps, but as a part of the process.
It’s your birthday
and all I can do is think
about your parents while looking
at this photo of you as a baby,
when you were new. Just learning air,
joyous and blank, free with the same
eyes, the same open look saying yes
to this weird life. Without you,
we celebrate the years you left us with,
a small chunk of time that overflows
with stories. You were a shining man,
always giving us a reason to rejoice,
and so you still are, you always will.
Exercise for making pain useful: Find the source.
This is a tender exercise, a tracing of pain, the path back to the deepest wound. For myself, a huge hurt that I carry is often the source of great realizations and growth. I’ve worked with many different types of therapy for years to figure out where my pain stems from, and my curiosity has been my greatest guide in this effort.
I want to know why I am the way I am, and my trauma informs so much of my mindset. Do you know where your pain comes from? Does it point back to a certain occurrence? Do you have only a vague idea, a slight memory, that seems to be the source? What do you do to familiarize yourself with the hurt you carry?
In our writing, we can uncover the how and
why of our pain, looking deeper into the
process of its becoming, and then we can
begin to dismantle it.
There are countless, well-trusted methodologies to help us become acquainted with our pain, and when we dig into this work, the cave of our understanding becomes incredibly deep.
I like to turn my pain into a guide.
I follow its directions, meditating on where it all began. It’s at these starting points where I find the most potent feelings. My heartbreak from a failed relationship will often give me a chance to let out my sadness in verse, but not before I try to unpack the whole story.
Only when I attempt to understand the many aspects of this failed relationship can I fully feel it and pay tribute to it. I begin this kind of investigation by rambling in my journal. Then, if I feel inclined, I might pull the heart of my understanding into poetic form.
I urge you to do this hard work with your trauma if you’re able. Give yourself permission to move into the realm of blame. Maybe move beyond it toward forgiveness.
However your process looks, you can write it down and find the poetry that pain presents.
Our traumas create our fears, and our responses to these fears can be as poetic and beautiful as we make them. Let your pain be a source of inspiration, turn this heavy load into poetry, own it, use it, and take as much from it now as it has taken from you in the past.
Close your eyes and meditate on the hidden ache you carry. I like to start with my childhood because that’s what makes sense for me, but you can start anywhere along your timeline.
Do you see any images attached to your discomfort? Can you try and put words to your grief and your loss? Who hurt you? What was their childhood like? Why did they do what they did? Make use of the pain of being alive. See the universality in whatever caused you harm, and focus on the connection to others who have survived similar experiences. When I sit with my wounds, I find my resilience, and that makes me want to linger there, gather up the lessons left in the aftermath, and use them for my own creation. Writing about my pain enables me to claim it as my own, and this ownership is empowering.
Every poem holds the power to do this
healing work, to give a reflection, to present
a relationship with newness and possibility.
How can you show your reader your personal methods of self-care in a poetic way? Maybe start by writing a list of poems or even song lyrics that have been healing for you in the past. I have poems dog-eared and underlined in every book on my shelf, and I’ll pull them out in a moment of need. They’re my reminders that yes, it is indeed hard to be alive for everyone.
[Read Deborah Anne Quibell's poem, “The Yellow Boat.”]
Writing practice: How to write a healing poem.
My work with Poem Store allowed me to witness humanity’s widespread suffering. We’re all aching over loss and dissatisfaction, over cruelty and hatred, and yet, when someone makes space for our pain, we find solace. In every spontaneous poem that I write in response to sorrowful subject matter, I make space for the pain. Each line I create shows the reader that I see them, I hear them, I accept their struggle and respond to it openly, with care and consideration. Just as I do this for others, we can all do this for ourselves through poetry as well.
How can a poem be healing? Add light to the dark places. Write down the ways your pain has been an impetus for positive change. My issue with feeling unlovable caused me to engage in a healing process that has allowed me to better express myself with friends and lovers, enriching my connections and communication skills. My pain actually opened me up.
Let the dark places be teachers.
Describe the lessons you’ve learned and the ways you’ve grown in response to the most hurtful parts of your life. Understanding that my childhood trauma affects my present relationships has enabled me to have compassion for myself and my behavior, which I might otherwise judge harshly. This compassion slows me down and helps me clearly communicate my needs.
Balance your pain with future possibilities. Consider what it looks like to live with your pain and to accept the healing process for the long haul. After losing my best friend to drugs and alcohol, I see my grief as a continuation of our connection, a lifelong presence that will help me help others in the future.
Let the sorrow be compared to all things light and heavy. Does it burn hot like the sun? Is it an iron plate over your chest? When I envision my sorrow, I see my heart as a burnt charcoal rose with a hole in it. As I practice healing and write about my feelings, the rose changes shape; it sings and blooms according to my willingness to tend to it.
Heart Song II
I’m the white heron.
I’m the ginger root.
Wings wide in seamless
effort, floating high above.
Deep spice dug from soil,
built in darkness.
When I see my heart
it’s a rose
made of charcoal.
The hole inside
is dark and the petals
wither around it.
But I spread my feathers
and my body dives down
into fire, where I remember—
The rose has a season
and look now, it’s huge again,
pure red, singing within this small breast.
If you don’t feel whole, try to write down a version of wholeness that makes sense to you. Use this practice as if it were a spell meant to call your wholeness into form. I like to meditate on the things I’m afraid of and then make a counter list, reversing my fears: I’m not afraid to be loved; I’m not afraid to ask for what I need; I’m not afraid to be the student. Then I like to flesh these ideas out and make poetry with the results. This is a recipe for my healing.
Remind your reader that we’re all sad together. When they see your sadness on the page, it acts as a mirror. We’re not meant to look away from suffering. It’s a catalyst that leads to greater wisdom. Remind your reader that renewal is an innate human skill. We’re made to grow and become better. Our bodies renew. Our minds renew. We heal and change. This is a truth built into being, and so, it can be built into our poems as a healing tool. Show us what it looks like to move from one state to the next; let us see your exploration and your struggle to become new. A poem can remind us of the methods we have access to that help us all recover.
A poem can say yes, this suffering is
immense, but mending is an ancient art.
Show yourself how you have mended before,
how your ancestors healed, how humans
always find a way to keep moving onward
even in the face of great struggle.
Write about your healing journey. What does your heart look like today?
Poetic mindset tip: Your pain is a seed for growth.
These writing practices carry over into our quiet moments, into the dismal and dulling places of pain that keep us awash in forgetfulness, lacking inspiration.
There’s one thing to remember here, even when everything is too heavy for poetry: your pain is a seed for growth. From the worst ache comes the gift of newness. Heartbreak calls for mending, and then our form is forever altered. Instead of hardening around this change, we can embrace it, thankful for the wisdom that accompanies such transformation.
In times of doubt, we can say, “My pain is a seed, my pain is a seed, newness is coming, newness is coming,” and we’ll never be wrong, no matter how long we take to root and flourish.
Read “Poetry as a Healing Balm.”
Adapted excerpt from the book Every Day is a Poem: Find Clarity, Feel Relief, and See Beauty in Every Moment by Jacqueline Suskin © 2020 Jacqueline Suskin, used with permission of the author and the publisher, Sounds True, Inc.