Poetry That Helps Us Feel It All

As National Poetry Month begins, we discuss the power of poetry to express emotion, read some of our favorite poems, and share what they mean to us.

Today, at the beginning of National Poetry Month, we talk about the power of poetry to express emotion. Reading it and writing it can have a more potent effect than prose. And right now, as we’re maybe coming out of the pandemic (Fingers crossed! Soon, we hope!), we wanted to share some of the poems that help us feel it all.

Quick Update from Gill

Our last episode, How to Show Up for People in Tough Times was a really difficult one to record and release. I talked about my recent Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis and shared some of the helpful ways people have been showing love and support for Brian and me and some suggestions for how to show up for people in your life who are going through hard stuff. 

I’m so appreciative and grateful for the supportive messages, gifts, funny content, book/TV/movie recs, etc. I’ve received since the episode. Thank you to everyone who has reached out, and thank you for listening and being part of our community. It’s been a really difficult time, and I am overwhelmed by gratitude and love every day for all of our people. 

I’ve had a few oncology and lab appointments since our last episode and am feeling overall pretty good physically. My cough is a lot better, which the oncologist says is a good sign. My next scan is at the end of April, so we wait.

Emotionally, I’ve had lots of ups and downs – some bad days and some that feel good and normal. I’m still trying to ride the waves and do the things I know that help when I’m having a hard day (many of which we talk about in Episode 64: Building Joy & Meaning into Every Day).  

Poetry That Helps Us Feel It All

April is National Poetry Month, and Melia heard this Audre Lorde quote in one of her morning meditations on the Calm app: 

“… Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

You may have an emotional or even a physical response when you read a poem that moves you. There are some fascinating studies about how people react to poetry:

  • One study published in the journal, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, said: “Using psychophysiology, neuroimaging and behavioral responses, we show that recited poetry can act as a powerful stimulus for eliciting peak emotional responses, including chills and objectively measurable goosebumps that engage the primary reward circuitry.” 
  • Another study, published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology, shows that the human brain appears to be hardwired to recognize the rhymes and rhythms in poems and distinguish them from ordinary prose: “before we even consider literal meaning, the musical properties of poetry speak to the human mind in ways that escape consciousness.” 
  • One of the authors of the study, Bangor University psychology professor Guillaume Thierry, said: “I believe that our results argue for a profoundly intuitive origin of poetry,” Poetry appears to be ‘built in,’ it is like a profound intuition, every human being is an unconscious poet.”

Our Favorite Poems

We both loved reading and writing poetry in our high school and college years but have lost touch with it as we’ve gotten older. It’s been a joy to reconnect with old and new favorite poems recently. 

We share the role that poetry has played in our lives and read from some that are especially meaningful to us:

Ithaka, by C.P. Cavafy 

[love is more thicker than forget], by e.e. Cummings

Sonnet XVII, by Pablo Neruda 

The Dream Keeper, by Langston Hughes

The Guest House, by Rumi 

Singsong, by Rita Dove

The Thing Is, by Ellen Bass 

Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou

Those Winter Sundays, by Robert Hayden

We Shake With Joy, by Mary Oliver

Don’t Hesitate, by Mary Oliver

This Be the Verse, by Philip Larkin 

The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman 

Rollercoaster, by Jasmine Gardosi 

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

Love Poem, by John Frederick Nims 

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in], by e.e. Cummings

[in Just-] by e.e. Cummings

“Milkshake” poem from the movie Before Sunrise

Listener Takeaways

Here are a few listener takeaways for this episode:

  1. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a huge poetry fan, take the time to read a few poems this month. You can find thousands of poems online on the Poetry Foundation or the Academy of American Poets websites. Or browse the shelves in the poetry section at a library or bookstore. Or ask loved ones if they have any favorite poems (this is also an interesting way to get to know people on a deeper level). 
  1. Write your own poetry, even if it’s just for yourself and you never show it to anyone else. Try crafting a short poem in a journal or notebook as a practice of uncensored self-expression. Let go of the pressure to write something good, and just write whatever you’re feeling at the moment. Start small: a haiku is only 3 lines, after all.

Get In Touch

What role has reading or writing poetry played in your life? We’d love to hear your favorites and what they mean to you. Tell us at podcast@semitogether.com or send us a voice memo.

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