We must think of poetry not just as lines on a page, but as a way of living. We should not read poetry just to be fascinated; we should read it to be triggered into experience. All those words should dissolve in the flames of our hearts coming alive; this is the transformational power of poetry. If a poem is worth its salt, it allows us to, “hold only what dissolves for the heart to live.”
Poetry allows us to live symbolically. But why is this important? First, it allows us to see ourselves in everything else. Secondly, it allows us to see everything else in ourselves—microcosm and macrocosm untied in Yin-Yang wholeness. Why is this important you may ask? Well, isn’t this the fundamental spiritual balm for our day—to not only think we are one, but to feel it? So poetry triggers full-hearted experience and unites that experience in a felt-sense, bodily oneness.
Living symbolically also helps us be enriched by the world without having to cut it down, or eat it, or buy it, or sell it. We can walk into a forest to be filled and enriched; with this inner power we can back off from outer power and greed. We can simply enjoy it, marvel at the wonder of nature, feel ourselves part of a great and abundant mystery that is beauty to behold. This requires that we know how to receive, which is fundamental message embodied by the Nourish Practice. When we are fulfilled with the vibrant emptiness of awe, wonder, and vitality, we don’t need to fill that emptiness with things. It stays empty as the channel for inspiration. So, poetry helps us step out of the consumer culture by enriching and vitalizing our inner lives—so we don’t need as much unsustainable stimulation.
Poems engender inner richness. They connect us to the world and to ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They give our experience meaning and help us find meaning. When we possess meaning, we don’t need addictions, which is emblematic of consumer culture and the capitalism that is tearing down the world. When we live outwardly more simply, we have the time and space to cultivate inner richness, thus the motto of this website: Outer Simplicity ~ Inner Richenss.
Because poetry goes right to the heart, it is the language of emotion. This is why many people write poems primarily when they are in love or heartbroken. But the object of heartbreak is not to enjoy a temporary visit to this expanded state. The purpose of heartbreak is to open to the world and to ourselves. When we open we heal what we didn’t have access to when our heart was in tact and “fine.” Heartbreak is to leave us open, more sensitive to the world, and able to feel everything a little more than before. Poetry is a way to heal our hearts when they break, without closing off in pain. Poetry is non-linear language that expresses our feelings and allows our deep imagination to find its own cure in the creative flow of words that mean so much more than prose and literal progress. Poetry is circular because it always takes us back to our center, which we find paradoxically in newfound empathy and compassion for the world around us.
When our hearts break and everything falls apart, poetry is one of the few things that can hold all the broken pieces together as they fall. Poetry eventually puts us back together without suffocating or manipulating these pieces, but by allowing what is painful to die by naming the process, so we can be renewed in organic order. This is one of the great paradoxical powers of poetry: to heal without fixing. The result of this is a spirituality of a broken-open heart, one that remains sensitive to the world, always in love, and therefore ever-changed by grief, which only deepens us further. So, life’s spiritual journey through embodied poetry is the paradox of healing by breaking open. We mend yet never close off. We ever-widen and ever-deepen.
Heartbreak sets in motion what I call the “alchemical factories of the heart,” and poetry is one way to make sense of that invisible, felt-sense experience. Reading an amazing poem, or writing one, helps us figure out what we are feeling, which helps us to heal without fixing anything, because much of the time the heart doesn’t need linear fixing; it just needs to be heard, to be able to speak its truth and bathe in its own outpouring. With its creative imagination stoked, it finds its own cure. This is what “Alchemy” speaks to.
Like vinegar of
The heart draws inward
To the quiet chambers
Waiting in darkness
By the thirst of its own juices
Spilled by life’s sacred accident
Aching with a now growing
Hopefulness that comes
With enduring grief’s deliverance
From bitter days, waiting to ripen
Elegantly sour, painfully sweet,
Wisely aged, strangely blessed
Ready again to taste the world
Lastly, here’s an interview I did with Carolyn Baker on the necessity of poetry, both as the written word and what it is to live poetically.