a book of poems with white words on black pages to illustrate the power of poetry to help us during dark times.

Use This Exercise to Harness the Power of Poetry

Last weekend, I attended a meeting of the Charlottesville Women Writers Collective. As we shared updates on our creative lives, a writer who’s between projects revealed that she’s using poetry to cleanse her palette.

She’d recently finished a novel and wasn’t ready to start a new project. But she didn’t want to stop writing, so she committed to a poem-a-day practice.

Since it’s National Poetry Month, I decided to harness the power of poetry by writing one poem per day too.

In my teens and twenties, I dreamt of getting an MFA in poetry and toiled over my metaphors and language. Many of my current poems are like sandcastles at high tide—the words are washed from my brain as soon as I turn the page.

 I find myself paying closer attention to my surroundings, the leafing of the redbud tree in my yard, the way the carnation-like blossoms from the neighborhood kwanzan cherry trees blow across the sidewalk, how quickly the full moon rises above a contrail.

The more I pay attention, the more I slow down.

The more we all slow down, the more we connect to our creativity.

For many of us, slowing down long enough to rest, let alone write, is difficult.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve met with three women who want to write, but struggle to find the time. While exploring the root cause of their struggles, they all revealed a fear of not being seen as productive. They worried that stepping away from “important” things that make money or provide care for others would be seen as selfish.

But following your inner call and working toward your dreams serves a higher purpose.

When you fulfill your needs, you show up to life as your full self. As you live authentically, you give others permission to do the same.

Your stories, whether fictional or true, provide language for experiences others might have but don’t know how to express. Like finally getting a diagnosis for a mysterious disease, seeing their experience mirrored provides both connection and relief.

Sometimes the poem, with its short lines and emphasis on metaphor and imagery, is the most accessible way to capture the inexpressible or unimaginable. Best of all, you can craft a poem while between projects or working on one. 

During last February’s AWP Conference, I attended the session “Teaching Writers Who Don’t Write.” The presenters were all poets. While many had university connections, they took writing into prisons, afterschool programs, and community gatherings.

After one of the devastating fires that burned through California, townspeople asked Iris Jamahl Dunkle to help them make sense of their experience. Most were now homeless. Some had been severely burned. A few lost relatives. They craved something that could not only help them understand what happened but find the hope needed to carry on.

So, she took them through an exercise that helped them do this, which you’ll find below. It’s based on the six-line poem “Five Directions to My House” by Juan Filipe Herrera.

Exercise to help you harness the power of poetry:

  1. Create a line that tells us where your home is, not the address but the environment and your feelings about it. Be specific.
  2. Tell us how to enter your home and what it feels like when you enter. Get weird.
  3. Tell us what’s under your home. Think about tunnels that lead to secrets. What treasures would you hide?
  4. Name an animal. What is it telling us? What is it telling you?
  5. What does it feel like to be in your home?
  6. End by breaking a rule.

As writers in the group read their poems, tears flowed. Hearts opened. Connections formed. A new community emerged. That’s the power of poetry.

While the exercise uses the house as a vessel, feel free to choose something else. However you choose to engage with this exercise, let the language wash over, and as you do this, allow it to help you write on.

Love what you just read?

Get my weekly posts delivered to your inbox. As a special bonus, I’l send you my FREE ebook, Write More, Fret Less: Five Brain Hacks that Will Supercharge Your Productivity, Creativity, and Confidence.

Need a little nudge? See what my followers have to say.

I get something from every single newsletter I receive.

I have a short list of newsletters I regularly read. Lisa’s is one of them. I read every single one.

Your newsletters offer excellent reminders to check in with myself and understand my needs as a writer.

Pin It on Pinterest