Poetry as Therapy
April is National Poetry Month.
Poetry. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; I’ll pass. I don’t blame you. Poetry has a bad rap as an archaic art form, a mandatory literature class in high school or undergraduate degree programs or something only the odd and “artsy” among us indulge in.
When I was introduced to spoken word poetry in 2012, I found a home in this transcendent marriage of theater and personal narrative. For years I’d tried and failed to cram my creative expression into the technical forms of stage acting, academic poetry, journalism and fiction. I was in and out of therapy and, at the direction of my doctors, heavily medicated to address my delicate and inconsistent mental health. Of the 10 years I was sporadically insured and attempting to keep myself from the ever-tempting whisper of suicide and substance abuse, not once did a single psychologist, psychiatrist or general practitioner recommend creativity as a form of therapy. The trauma I’d endured from childhood sexual abuse, date rape and physically abusive relationships were never, ever discussed much less considered culprits of my fluctuating stability and well-being.
Spoken word (and its more formal, competitive sibling, slam poetry) exists solely because a community of strangers choose to gather and share their individual truths in a space where everyone is seen and respected equally; the results of which are often relatability, unity among folk who otherwise have little in common and ultimately, healing. To be understood is the greatest of human endeavors and this art form offers human connectivity as the primary foundation for its existence. To see the miracle of connection happen firsthand, as I have from coast to coast, is to know that without this form of community therapy and healing, many of us would not be alive today, much less sober and thriving.
Through their writing, poets force you into the details. Spoken word artists are charged with reinventing the obvious on the page while simultaneously revealing their most vulnerable personal truths on stage. It sounds terrifying until you step off that stage, shaking, near tears, and are greeted with applause and hugs and “hallelujahs!” From that moment on, you are more whole than you were prior. As comedian Maria Bamford says, “Somebody has done exactly what you have done or worse, has gotten past it and is currently on a book tour. You’re never alone.”
Every poet, novice or professional, is reaching deep within the vastness of their personhood and showing you the elements that make up their humanity. Mumbles become bullhorns, isolation and shame dissipates. People are asking you to see them as more than the sum of their parts and they’re making room for you to exist in your truth as well.
There is room within this art form for everyone and it is applicable across limitless disciplines to serve as a network of curative community-building and progress.