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Poetry is good for you

April is National Poetry Month. I have it on good report that “poetry can heal.”

If you witnessed Amanda Gorman’s incredible reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb” at this year’s presidential inauguration, you may already believe that. The amazing Ms. Gorman has a new children’s book coming out in the fall; I have pre-ordered it and plan to use it in holiday gifting to my grandchildren.

There is another book about the healing power of poetry coming out in a few weeks that I am interested in gifting — this one I will offer to my age peers. It’s written by Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the psychiatrist who pioneered light therapy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The title is its own full description of the contents. “Poetry RX: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy to Your Life.” Dr. Rosenthal’s premise, after decades of treating depressed and anxious patients, is “poetry can serve as a vaccine for the soul.”

Another physician-poet, Dr. Rafael Campo, teaches students and sees patients at Harvard Medical School. He reportedly gave a 2019 TED talk where he stated, “When we hear rhythmic language and recite poetry, our bodies translate crude sensory data into nuanced knowing — feeling becomes meaning.”

This has been an unsettled year of difficult feelings and significant loss for many. Solace in the form of the written word — a prescription that you do not have to take to a pharmacy to fill — is particularly beckoning to me.

A number of websites can act as portals to poems that heal. I came upon one called “Hello Poetry” and another titled “Commaful,” which is particularly ingenious. There are clever, thoughtful poems with titles like “The Care and Feeding of ideas” and “We Blunder Forth.”

There is a Poetry Foundation and a Poetry Society, and something called “Poetry Soup.” I have found myself going to several different sources of late. Once you do that, you can get hooked on insightful reflections and sometimes lose track of the poem’s title. I did that with the following poem, but it’s still worth sharing.

Excerpts from a particularly contemplative author, Ann Foster: “Another day in the morning when I awake, I am thankful I can see. I take a survey and find that I hurt in many places, some way more than others. Age … is a hard thing to understand. There are too many issues to convey and no time to do so. Yeah, there may be a year … or two or 10.

Later in this poem/essay, she writes, “If I were to tell any young person today about tomorrow or even yesterday, I would tell them loudly, strongly and with all that I had to offer, live and never stop living. Regret is an evil sister … you never want to live in the house you will always intend to call home. Do not be a toad. Laugh.”

I read that poem and reflect. It has its own peculiar cadence. It touches on a host of age-related feelings then ends unexpectedly — offering the pathway to a smile.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.