Poetry as Medicine

Through the raw unlimited words of a poet we are all granted the chance to heal.

Books have always been a safe place for me. The relief that comes as I bear witness to a character’s journey towards wholeness is priceless. I imagine the author must feel the same as their story comes to its close—shoulders relaxing, and the exhale of tightly-held breath as the final words leave their typing fingers and make their way onto the screen.

And I too find myself exhaling, relieved by the completion of a tale that was not mine, but yet, somehow feels as though it is mine because I can’t distinguish between the healing power of the words for the one writing, and the healing power of those words for the one reading. As poet and author Jeanette Winterson says, “fiction and poetry are doses, medicine” and I’ve always taken that to mean for both the writer and the reader. While fiction takes us on a path of unraveling to closure—like a course of oral antibiotics—I find poetry, in its brevity, to be a shot in the arm.

The rules of grammar do not apply to poets. Nor does poetry require a certain word count in order to be published. In the world of words, a poet is free. And in being granted the freedom to break traditional boundaries of literature, they also break free of our own human tendency to conform. They can say what we often can’t, or won’t. A poet can show you what lies beneath the veneer of our casual interactions.

In fewer words, and not always in full sentences, a poet can deliver to you in just seconds, their battle with their own demons, or a heartbreaking story. They show you their bones, and in doing so, show you yours.


You Don’t Know the Half of It

According to you,
people like me
shouldn’t go into places like this or
be around people like these
but you don’t know the half of it.

The brightest of stars, frankly,
are just a load of hot air and diamonds, sadly,
were just formed from dust
and rock
and the butterfly,
used to crawl on its belly
and tiny legs
through the dirt.




In their sharing, we are granted wisdom. On one page, in less than 1,000 characters, a poet dispenses the words you wish your grandmother had told you, but couldn’t bring herself to say aloud.


Things It Can Take Twenty Years and a Bad Liver to Work Out (Excerpt)

1. Truth is a beauty, whether pretty or not.
Love doesn’t always mean you should stay.
Sometimes the truth has to punch you, twice.
Love doesn’t always mean you should stay.

2. See, nobody warns you about yourself.
The red in your eye.
The trap in your mouth.
The person who hurts you the most in the end will be you.
Almost every time, you.
You’d better learn to forgive yourself.




And poetry can lift you up just by knowing you’re not alone. In the pages of a poetry book, someone else is reaching out to you to say: “This is my tale, and I am surviving.” And at that moment, while we wish we could undo their pain, we are so grateful for their journey, and that poetry gave them the opportunity to heal for all of us.



Nobody is saying anything at the

dinner table tonight,

because everyone is too angry.

The only noise is the clinking of

fine silver on bone china and the sound of other people’s children

playing outside

but this will give you poetry.

There is no knife in the kitchen sharp enough to cut the tension

and your grandmother’s hands are shaking.

The meat and yam stick in your throat

and you do not dare even to whisper,

please pass the salt,

but this will give you poetry.

Your father is breathing out of his mouth

he is set to beat the spark out of you tonight

for reasons he isn’t even sure of himself yet.

You will come away bruised.

You will come away bruised but this will give you poetry.

The bruising will shatter.

The bruising will shatter into black diamond.

No one will sit beside you in class.

Maybe your life will work.

Most likely it won’t at first

but that will give you poetry.



“You Don’t Know the Half of It,” “Things It Can Take Twenty Years and a Bad Liver to Work Out” (Excerpt), and “Poetry” are from Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward. ©Yrsa Daley-Ward, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.


Photo Credits: iStock



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