by contributing writer Ana Jimenez
Poetry is underestimated and misunderstood. It is underestimated because people are not aware of the power it has and it is misunderstood because people do not know what a poem is meant to do. These are the people who think poetry is elitist, high-culture, and not practical. They are wrong. Poetry does a great many things. In fact, poetry can change lives.
Healing comes from poetry for both the writer and the reader. Poetry heals the writer through the act of expression, through getting one's thoughts and experiences out of oneself and on to a piece of paper. This act provides some distance between the writer and the experience so that he or she can examine the experience from a new perspective and gain some insight and healing. Poetry heals the reader through empathy and catharsis. Oftentimes, the reader can identify with the feelings that are expressed throughout the poem and this, in turn, validates his or her own feelings. When a person's feelings are validated, this heals them and empowers them to act triumphantly in their situation or environment. Also, a poem can take the reader on a ride of emotion and in this way provide therapeutic catharsis for them.
Along the same lines as healing, poetry can change lives by providing a much needed escape. There is nothing quite like falling into a poem and being completely absorbed in the language and images. The right words can really transport you into a different feeling, place, or time. This type of poetry acts as a gift, giving an experience that is outside of reality or that presents a different kind of reality. Escapes are often healing in themselves, if not completely, they at least provide a balm. This balm may be hopeful, empathetic, or simply distracting, not in a negative way, but in a way that defers from the realities of one's own life.
Poetry can change lives because it can change minds. Readers are invited to think critically and use their brain muscles, not just in figuring out what the poet might mean by a certain phrase, but by applying the message of the poem to the larger world around them. Persuasion is another way that poetry changes minds. Many poems are secretly arguments trying to persuade you to feel or think a certain way. Many poets use this facet of poetry to express social and political concerns in hopes to change the world. One such poet who does this is Gwendolyn Brooks. In her poem, “We Real Cool,” she shows the reader the vicious cycle that young black men often find themselves in. In this way, she is not just a poet, she is an advocate for social change.
Ginger Jones's life began to change because of poetry from the time she was a child watching Sesame Street. Ginger, a published poet and a friend of mine, distinctly remembers that her favorite character on Sesame Street was a Muppet that often recited poetry and spoke in rhyme. That character was Roosevelt Franklin. There was also a segment on the show called “Rhyme Time” where the characters would pick a word and would try to think of as many words as they could that rhymed with it. This early exposure to poetry and rhyming stayed with Ginger throughout her life, inspired her to write poetry, and instilled “Rhyme Time” as a practice in her daily life, which she continues to this day. This practice not only made Ginger a better poet, but it encourages her daily to experiment with language. She is aware of the power it had over her and dares to use that power in her own writing.
Genuine humanity is a consequence of poetry. Poetry allows humans to cultivate deep experiences, ideas, and thoughts. It propels them to stretch towards a fuller potential. Readers of poetry are stimulated to empathize with difficult emotions. This experience draws them in as a collective body and unites them. Healing, escape, change, and unification can all be a result of poetry. Poetry provides us with a shared human experience and the more united we are, the more human we are.