Are you up for a 21-Day Poetry for Peace (of Mind) Challenge? It’s one way to celebrate April as Poetry Month!
When I was in the hospital and could not speak, I recited poetry to myself. After a 36-hour surgery to remove a tumor on my brainstem, I couldn’t read or write. I couldn’t even watch TV because it was too much stimulus. The only thing I could do was recite lines of poetry. The words calmed me down. My racing heart slowed. My anxious thoughts faded away. There is brain science behind this. There is also the practical truth that reciting lines focused my mind just enough to quiet my fears and soothe my pain.
Nelson Mandela, when he was in prison, recited the poem “Invictus” to remind him of his inner strength. It begins, “Out of the night that covers me/Black as the Pit from pole to pole/I thank whatever gods may be/ for my unconquerable soul…”
In the hospital, I counted on Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things” for solace. Berry published the poem in 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, and after the assassinations of JFK and Dr. King. Berry finds peace in nature and creatures that remind him of our place in the world. His lines “And I feel, above me, the day blind stars waiting with their light” gave me hope that something bright was coming.
I also leaned on Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” for comfort when I was feeling useless, because it begins, “You do not have to be good.” Indigenous poet Joy Harjo’s poem “Remember” worked like a spell to put me to sleep. The repeated invitation to feel how we belong to the universe grounded me on the earth and soothed my safety instinct. “Remember the sun…Remember the moon…Remember your birth…” By the fifth or sixth “remember” I was nodding off.
Moments will come up in your life when you feel utterly alone. Poetry is a way to not feel alone. It was a way for me to connect to the world beyond my hospital bed. It was a way for Nelson Mandela to connect deeply to his inner strength. Right now, poetry gives us a way to connect to one another.
This is also the year I turn 50. I am so utterly astonished and happy to be here. More, I’m so glad you are here with me. Poetry can connect us.
When you share lines of your favorite poems with me, I feel you very near to me. I picture us on the same couch, having a cup of tea and stretching a cozy blanket to cover all of our feet. Or maybe we are in a grassy meadow, under those “day blind stars” with our journals open. We are paying attention, being students of the hum of bees and the shape of clouds.
I hope you’ll join me for a special 21-Day Poetry Challenge from April 5-26, 2021 during Poetry Month. You pick a poem. Or I give you one. You have 21 days to learn it by heart. I offer support and resources on 4 live calls on Monday nights. You gain freedom from mind tailspins during troubling times!