It wasn’t mean or intentional. No one set out to deprive you or anyone else the considerable benefits of poetry in your work and personal life.
No one set out to marginalize poetry, by sending it off to some obscure and threadbare room in your mind where you rarely go. Or if you do go there, you certainly don’t stay.
Of course, we do this to each other by weaning ourselves with the kind of poetry that is so dusty, dense, dry and opaque that it squeezes the blood, life and passion out.
I mean the kinds of poetry that could only survive in the heavy-handed and schmaltzy greeting cards of drug stores or the hothouse climates of schoolrooms. The kinds of settings where torturing some prescribed meaning from poems become more important than looking at how the heart and mind surely leap into action given the right poetic pickle juice to marinate in.
How do I know these things are true? Because it has happened to many others and me. Because even if you had a parent, teacher or mentor somewhere along the way that loved poetry and presented it to you in the most skillful way, we are all still products of our poetry-marginalizingculture.
Of course, like most things there is a small and persistent gang that regularly reads, writes and yes loves poetry. But in my work with poem-tools as a coach, teacher and workshop leader, I’ve often seen even poetry lovers report how they’ve been pulled and tugged so much by their lives that they eventually had to simply let poetry go by the wayside.
In fact, to prioritize poetry in our lives you have to be a hardheaded type who has had a taste of some or all of the 13 kinds of poetry-based benefits I’m just about to unveil.
Which brings me to my own deep joy with poetry. I can’t tell you how grateful, happy and satisfied I feel when someone comes up to me after a speech, class, blog or presentation and informs me that a particular poem moved them deeply and served as a catalyst for seeing their own life through a more complete, joyful, grateful and holistic lens. Or when they say they loved how my class or speech abandoned heavy poetry analysis, in favor of simply letting them and others walk inside a poem to have their own “ah-ha” moment of being heard and understood deeply.
Yes, you heard that right. The right poem at the right moment in our lives is fully capable of hearing and understanding us deeply. Consider how the great poet Lisel Mueller once put it talking about what she did after her mother died: I placed my grief / in the mouth of language, / the only thing that would grieve with me.
In my personal experience, this being listened to deeply by a poem is true for business leaders who have never read or cared for poetry, just as it is true for poetry lovers who felt forced to abandon poetry at some point in their lives in favor of other pressing concerns.
So now my words have brought me right to the edge of the great big old universe of human experience, passions and possibilities. Here is where I want to give my latest answer to the question of why care about poetry? Why consider it and use it on a daily, ongoing basis, and yes in particular, why love poetry?
- Great poems heal, inspire and re-member us at our best.
- Great poems connect us to our selves, to others and to the great other.
- Great poems put the roots and dirt back on our lives in earthy fullness.
- Great poems transform life’s hurting fragments into grateful wholeness.
- Great poems harmonize and integrate our head, heart and body.
- Great poems celebrate paradox and the mysterious oneness.
- Great poems pickle, “perspectify” and “possibilitate” us.
- Great poems do what language cannot do, and go where it can’t go.
- Great poems are just serious jokes, words practicing Aikido.
- Great poems are stories without all those boring parts.
- Great poems are short, surprising and life-sustaining.
- Great poems listen deeply, act foolishly and speak wisely… at the same time.
- Great poems belong at the center not at the edges of our lives.
So there you have it. This is why I fell in love with poetry. This is why I do the work I do with poetry. These are the practical goodies it brings to many others and me. These are the reasons we may want to jettison other things in our lives before we decide to give up poetry. Things like television and social media for example.
And don’t think I’m not thumped by the knowledge that I’ve just “told” you a bunch of things about poetry, while it is true that poems like all great literature ought to showmore than tell. To redeem myself at least partially, let me serve up a quick story and give an example.
My father died at the age of 95 just a few years ago in 2014. (Pictured above smelling his favorite rose.) We estimated he had been on a self-imposed poetry-fast for over 75 years
My first book of poems, Why We Do Our Daily Practices was published just about a year before he died. It was this poem below about my dad’s own grieving process after my mother died in 1987 that had him break his long poetry fast. A fast, by the way, that surely must have set some kind of world record, meaning there is hope for us all!
After Mom died a lot of things changed
around here. Dad became a gifted reader
of signs, each one forged from her to him
each one placed with care on his daily walks.
Diverse omens found lying on the ground
pregnant with a type of urging and purpose.
She would forgive him for things he felt
needed forgiving and she would tell him things too.
Once she left a penny, weathered deceptively
green by neglect and with that year she died.
At other times she would remind him to be good,
to eat well, to make long distance calls on holidays.
Through other improbable messengers like
old postcards, broken pieces of jewelry, even old
tools and lost gas caps, each had a portion of the story
to tell and tell again.
For years now he has walked that same path, daily
while the signs have ebbed and flowed with the attentive
muscle of his grieving, hunger will always
speed the plough.
By Dale Biron
I would blush bright red to imagine this little poem of mine fulfills the grandeur and magnificence of all my 13 reasons to love poetry. I’m certain it does not. Neither, of course, is my point that we all will be moved by the same poems, which is also clearly not true.
My point is the right poems chosen well are both practical and transcendent tools and therefore work splendidly well in both our personal and professional lives. My point is there are many wonderful, talented and artful poets in this world who surely make poems that make good on all of my 13 reasons.
I promise if you look for these poems, they will reveal themselves to you. And I promise if you simply ask me, I will help you find them. Over the last 25 years of using great poetry in my coaching, teaching and writing work, my hound dog ways have become passion-fueled and well-honed when it comes to sniffing out just the right poems.