POWER OF POETRY #104: MARTHA WARREN

Ah, the power of poetry. To makes us less reactive. More reflective. Connected.

I joined The Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University last year; a leap of faith and tolerance for both myself and those who love me. Evenings and weekends became filled with writing. My friends wondered why, if I really needed something new and all-consuming, I couldn’t just have taken up running. But it was at TWS I first witnessed miracles through the power of poetry. Poetry cures.

I saw people healed by writing poetry. Poets told me they felt legitimised. Heard. And after a while, I noticed I felt the same.

And not only are the poets cured, so are readers. The stories in poetry may be unique, but the themes are universal. Moreover, the very act of reading or listening to poetry has been the subject of considerable scientific study, and the effects especially notable in palliative care and psychotherapy. There are measurable benefits to cognitive and emotional health. Increased brain activity can be seen with MRI’s. Reading and writing generally have been linked to improved immune cell counts, liver enzyme levels, and the like.

In Shropshire there is a Poetry Pharmacy that dispenses poetic first aid. The on-call Emergency Poet has a poem for whatever ails you – heartbreak, disappointment, depression, grief… Take two haikus and call me in the morning. I think every drug store in Canada should stock poetry on a shelf between the throat lozenges and the ibuprofen.

I read poetry to my father in the advanced stages of his dementia, and although he could no longer interpret language, he would smile and laugh at the musicality of a poem, and the soothing cadence of rhythm and voice. Reading poetry aloud to him was good for me, too. I loved that we could still share something together. It was he who had introduced me to the poetry of Susan Musgrave and Emily Dickinson. He’s the one who read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 at my wedding… “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…”

My poetry? I write of relationships, heartbreak, tenderness, sex, parenting. I did one on the economic crisis in Greece; one on pipeline protests. I write to give comfort to the reader, to help heal nerves raw from the ordinary vicissitudes of life. I always try to leave my poems open-ended, with a little space for the reader to deliberate. And I hope my poems encourage people to think before they speak, disagree in a thoughtful and considered way, rather than on impulse at full volume.

Why do I write? So far there are few accolades and no money. I am resigned to the fact that some of my best work will never see the light of day. But instead of giving up, I think of this: My most successful poem ever, in my opinion, was so because it provided comfort. While it will never win any awards, I know of several children who took solace from it when they couldn’t fall asleep at night. A poetry cure. For me, that’s enough.

You want another story and another lullaby.
With my finger, I dab fairy dust on your wakeful eyes,
And tell you to please close them
And dream your dreams so sweet,
Of fairies and forests, of school and games,
And all the friends you’ll meet
When you wake up in the morning.
So sweetheart, close your eyes,
And drift away so gently to this Fairy Lullaby.

April is National Poetry Month. I hope you’ll feel the power. http://poets.ca/programs/npm/1

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