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Bridging Poetry and the Subconscious With Visual Images

Terhi K. Cherry provides top tips on the creative life.

Eric Maisel
Creativity Coaches on Creativity
Source: Eric Maisel

Today’s post is by poetry facilitator and hypnotherapist Terhi K. Cherry.

Terhi explained:

As a poetry facilitator and a hypnotherapist, I support creativity tapping into the subconscious mind. We are not always fully cognizant of what we know, what we are thinking and what we are feeling. The subconscious is like a vault, containing our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, the root causes of our problems and limitations, as well as solutions, our inner wisdom, and our creativity.

When not under pressure, the subconscious mind can provide novel insights, such as the sudden revelation you might get in the shower, or a resolution to a work problem as you walk away from your computer. We hold answers pertaining to our lives deep within yet may need creative ways to access these.

The subconscious mind is highly susceptible to visuals and imagery. Poetry, in particular, reaches into emotions through the language of the subconscious: imagery, symbolism, and metaphor.

Nature imagery can be especially powerful, such as in the work of late poet Mary Oliver. Her poetry was known for rich imagery of the natural world and the contemplation of what it means to be human. In the poem "Wild Geese," Oliver writes about the yearning to live a life of purpose, to be true to one’s own nature and needs; and how as humans we tend to find ourselves in the state of penance and suffering. She brings in an image of wild geese flying overhead, reminding us about belonging and endurance, how we are part of nature and enough the way we are.

How the poem came to be may well have been a revelation to Oliver. As poet and playwright Jack Grapes writes in his book Method Writing, perhaps Oliver did not consciously plan what she was going to write; perhaps the geese flying overhead captured her attention, and the lines of the poem came to her. The creative process can be unplanned and end up with a discovery. An important part of the process, as Grapes notes, is “a state of mind that allows you to risk getting lost.”

I use this idea in my poetry facilitation. I have developed a creative exercise that activates the subconscious mind using nature images. I first invite participants to start writing their own poem in response to something we have read together during a session, such as "Wild Geese."

Participants may begin with a feeling response to a line in the poem, connecting to something meaningful in their own lives. Participants keep writing for five to eight minutes, then pause. I invite participants to open a set of nature images I have provided (mountain, forest, desert, ocean, meadow) and choose one they are intuitively drawn to.

For a moment, participants explore the image chosen, letting it speak to them, and as soon as they feel called, return to their poem. Participants continue their poems with the insight from the image without worrying how it connects with the lines written earlier. From here the poetic exploration often takes a fascinating turn as the doors to the subconscious mind open.

The exercise works also with real nature, such as when looking out of the window or walking in the garden. In the garden, you might pay attention to the landscape, perhaps how flowers pop in yellow and pink or how stones and pebbles huddle on the ground, hiding the soil underneath. If you trust the process, what draws attention can convey messages if brought back into the poem.

Treating poem writing as a journey into the subconscious can help with self-discovery and increase a sense of self-awareness. Participants often comment on how the visual images invite them to take surprising turns, yielding new insights from a deeper place.