UPDATED June 17th, 2017
If you absolutely hated reading poetry (or worse, having to write it) when you were in school, then you probably have a bad taste in your mouth about the whole artistic-expression-through-words thing. The world of iambic pentameters and haikus and sonnets isn’t for everyone, but regardless of whether or not you think you like poetry, it’s time to open your mind and discover how poetry can change your attitude and your life. Words can reach you on an emotional level, they can make you think, make you question, make you cry, make you smile and inspire you to be a better, happier person.
Just ask Kim Rosen, MFA, a spiritual teacher, therapist, and author of Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words. She was suffering from depression, to the point where she was suicidal, when poetry saved her. She experienced a new level of healing and happiness when she opened her heart to a poem that she loved. Taking that work and “speaking it aloud caused a profound integration of every aspect of me—-physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I felt a wholeness I had never before experienced. I felt like I was flying. I was speaking the truth, and the truth was setting me free” she explains. The feeling of freedom (freedom to feel emotional, to be honest, to be open…) is just one of the ways that poetry can change your life. Here are 9 more reasons you should read some poetry right now.
1. A poem can help you be honest Sometimes speaking the truth is hard, but if you read a poem that is someone else’s truth, it allows you to say what is on your mind without any fear of judgment. Find a poem that speaks to your soul and that you connect with on a personal level. You will feel instant relief as you read the words out loud.
Read Related: 20 Perfect First Lines of Famous Poems
2. Poetry can change how you see the world A great poem, like a great novel or even a great movie, can expose you to parts of the world that you didn’t know existed and that you haven’t witnessed first hand. They can transport you to another reality and open your eyes, reminding you that the world is a big, interesting place full of opportunities and adventures.
3. Writing and reading poetry can help you deal with your emotions Sometimes life can be overwhelming, and it is hard to find the words to explain what you are feeling. You may struggle with stress, frustration, anxiety, depression, or intense love and passion, and if you cannot communicate those feelings they can torment you from within. Poetry can help you not only release those emotions, but also make sense of them in a way that others can appreciate and relate to. Poet Edward Hirsch explains that he discovered his love of poetry when he was struggling emotionally. “I wanted to express what I was feeling, to make sense of it, to give it order and shape, to transform it. I needed help to keep my head above water.
4. Poetry can challenge you As we grow older some of us fall into a rut where we stick to what is comfortable and what comes easily to us. We experience success in work and in our personal lives so we spend time focusing on what we’re good at. Poetry is challenging and doesn’t come easily to everyone. It takes work to understand and appreciate, but when you do find a poem that speaks to you the rewards are worth the work.
5. Poetry can increase your empathy A 2011 study showed that those who read poetry are more likely to connect with the protagonist and be more sympathetic to those characters. “By stepping into another’s life, readers shared experiences they could not have otherwise and demonstrated greater empathy for characters. These are changes…carry into everyday life, which could have a profound positive effect on society.”
6. Poems can nourish your mind Your brain is a muscle, it needs training and exercise to continue to grow and be strong. Poetry uses creative parts of your brain that are otherwise forgotten. It nourishes your mind and your imagination, allowing you to function better in both a creative space and in the rest of your daily life.
7. Reading poetry doesn’t require much time While poems can be difficult to read and process, they are typically short in length, so you can read them regardless of how much free time you have. Rather than picking up a novel or reading a lengthy article, a poem can be a quick read, with a big impact.
8. Poems can help you discover your passions Poems are a form of art, and they cover every topic from love to the environment to family to food. Find a poem and a topic that speaks to you, and forgetting about the actual format of the poem, focus on the words and the message. And then try to write your own poem on that topic that drives you. You’ll discover passions you didn’t realize you had, and you just might find a new way to channel those thoughts and feelings into a career or pastime that will enhance your life.
9. Poetry can help with child development Reading poetry with children emphasizes everything from vocabulary to rhyming, rhythm and sounds. Reading poetry together can be fun and playful, and creating poems together is an excellent way to be silly while also working on language development.