The power of poetry

In its many forms, poetry is often turned to in times of emotional upheaval

Poetry is something of a unique art form; few people enjoy it as part of their everyday lives. But when it comes to occasions where we’re expected to show emotion, we often find ourselves digging out old schoolbooks, searching online, or summoning up our inner bard. Most will have sent a birthday card containing a pre-penned verse, and a glance at the remembrance section of a local newspaper often reveals loved ones honoured fondly in rhyme.

Why is this? It seems that a strange and beautiful thing happens when poetry is read at times of shared emotional intensity, when we seek comfort in the presence of others who understand our feelings, in times of celebration as well as suffering. The right poem at the right moment has a mysterious ability to unite people; capturing yet transcending individual feelings.

Poetry brings something personal to any occasion. Here are some tips to help you choose

– or write – your special verse:

  1. It may sound obvious, but does the person being celebrated or mourned (or both) have a personal favourite that means or meant a lot to them? Many people don’t flaunt their love of poetry, so it’s worth asking the question of relatives and loved ones before, say, a wedding anniversary, birthday or coming-of-age ceremony.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask people who you know enjoy poetry for their help. Usually, closet poetry enthusiasts can’t wait to talk about their favourite poets. And try not to be swayed by what’s popular – if the language of Shakespeare seems too dense and doesn’t make sense, then don’t feel you have to choose it. There are many great contemporary poets whose work covers loss and love. When looking at potential poems, read them aloud to yourself and get the feel of the words in your mouth. Ask yourself if the poem moves you, and whether you enjoyed it.
  1. Anthologies, which are usually themed by subject matter, are a great source for finding poets who write in different styles. Your local library is a good place to start, but a simple internet search will also present myriad choices.
  1. The Poetry Foundation ( is a great free resource that allows users to browse by topic or poet.
  1. Don’t be afraid to write your own poem. If there’s something you want to say that is specific to your loved one, give it a go. People will value the eff ort that you put into it.
  1. If you’re struggling to put pen to paper, start with a freewriting exercise: set a timer for seven minutes, note the name of the person you’re celebrating at the top of a blank page and then write everything that comes into your head, without stopping and without worrying about punctuation or grammar or even making sense. What you’ll be left with is a page of your emotional responses to the person, which is a good place to start. Consider the parts that capture the person or your love for them, pull these words or sentences out and then build your poem around them.

Words: Wendy Pratt

This article was originally published in Issue 19 – Global heart-warming

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