Poetry in Hard Times
It is no surprise that I was at our local independent bookstore, thumbing through the small but mighty poetry section.
Laura, the book buyer, was in the shop and I thanked her. In her selection, I always find something new.
She told me that poetry has been flying off the shelves lately.
I knew Unsalted Blue Sunrise had been selling well, but didn’t realize this was part of a larger trend. After giving it further thought, I think I know why.
The world seems dark. Bad news is raining down on us like grenades all day, every day (if we let it through our screens).
Indeed, we are living through difficult times.
Did you know that for centuries, poetry has been a healing balm of hope, connection, and humanity in the darkest of hours?
I turned to poetry myself after I heard about the horrific terror attacks on the Israeli people in October. At that time, I was inspired to learn more about the Jewish concept of teshuvah. The following poem emerged and I felt grateful that, through this learning and the poem that resulted, I was able to express love for my Jewish friends who were hurting.
Early Poetry for Hard Times
To explore the restorative impact of poetry, one could begin with the Old Testament Psalms. These verses are poems written over centuries, beginning as early as 1500 B.C.
Consider the poetry of Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
The psalms include poems of faith or despair, joy and gratitude. They have been read, chanted, and sung by billions of people throughout the world over the course of 3500 years–often during times of difficulty.
Poetry in the 20th Century
Fast forward to the past century. Poetry was so essential to survival in the communist Soviet Union that people risked death by firing squad or banishment to the gulags to write poems or to secretly reproduce them. The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova memorized each line she wrote and promptly burned it so it couldn’t be discovered in a raid. She passed her poems along to others verbally, repeating the lines over and over so they could lock them into memory.
In a war-torn or anxious time, fear and pressure and the general zeitgeist can drive out our humanity–love, generosity, friendship, compassion, humility, forgiveness.
But poetry reconnects us.
Poetry reawakens those beautiful qualities that make life meaningful and creative.
The present poet laureate of the United States, Ada Limón, gave an interview last year on NPR. She said, “. . . in this particularly hard moment, divided moment, poetry can really help us reclaim our humanity.”
She continued, “. . . through poetry, I think we can actually remember that on the other side of [chaos, grief, trauma] is also contentment, joy, a little peace now and again.”
Through poetry we can grapple with the gray areas of life and sort through our troubles. We can also remember joy and beauty, especially when poems incorporate nature.
This, I believe, is why poetry is selling well at our local bookshop. It is also why Unsalted Blue Sunrise is resonating deeply.
Poetry Can Widen Our View
As I say in my Unsalted Blue Sunrise talk, when I walk to Lake Michigan, I usually come from my computer. From a narrow, tight space within a screen-keyboard-chair. The lake itself widens my view and expands my thoughts. Poetry does this as well.
I encourage you to pick up a poem today and consider how poetry can help in hard times.
Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.