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How to Deal With Grief Using Poetry

April is National Poetry Month and a good time to start writing poetry.

Source: Unsplash
Source: Unsplash

April is National Poetry Month. In the midst of a pandemic, this year’s celebrations have either been suspended, or the organizers have become more creative in their planning. Where most towns across America would have already had numerous public poetry readings, many are now being held virtually.

The loss of human connection has caused people a great deal of psychological stress. Humans are social creatures, so the idea of isolation—especially for a long period of time—can be daunting, but there are ways to help us navigate this journey. Poetry is one of them.

We often equate grief with the loss of a loved one, but we are now grieving because of a shift in lifestyle, whether it’s due to our remaining in place or a change in financial status. Just yesterday, when my millennial son was watching a commercial on TV where a man was shopping for a suit at a clothing store, my son asked, “When do you think we’ll be able to go into stores again?” We sat quietly for a few moments and pondered that question. As a collective consciousness, we are now experiencing a different type of grief, a collective grief. We are all in it together.

In his new book, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, author David Kessler claims that we are now experiencing different types of grief because of how the world has recently changed. Not only might we be dealing with the loss of loved ones to COVID-19, but we’re also facing the loss of connection and the fear of economic hardship. Many of us are also feeling anticipatory grief due to the huge amount of uncertainty surrounding this situation. This kind of grief tends to make the mind project into the future and imagine the worst. To deal with this type of grief, the best thing to do is return to the present—familiar advice for those who embrace Buddhist principles, such as mindfulness and meditation.

Also in alignment with these principles is the mission of being more compassionate. This is one way to take the focus off our own fear. It’s important to remind ourselves that this is a temporary state of affairs, and by “leaning into it,” remaining in the moment, being creative, and tapping into poetry, we will find our way. All of these modalities can help us find meaning in the experience. Poetry, for example, helps us name the grief and allows us to feel and express what’s going on inside of us.

To write a grief poem, it’s important to get in touch with your own emotional truth and write about what you’re experiencing. You can do so by tapping into your heart center and asking yourself what’s “really” going on. When writing this type of poem, try to get all your feelings on the page in poetic form, and then consider organizing them after the fact. Next, choose a theme for your poem. Will it be about a particular person or about an event, such as a pandemic? Or will it relate to a particular philosophy, such as the idea of uncertainty and what that means?

Here are some suggestions for writing a poem about grief:

  • Begin by collecting your thoughts.
  • Make a list of ideas that pop into your mind.
  • Use imagery and your senses to paint a picture with words.
  • Begin the poem with a strong image or feeling to get the reader’s attention,
  • Write down the main idea of your poem, and try to stick to it.
  • Decide how you want to organize the poem.
  • Avoid using clichés.
  • When revising or editing, try reading your poem out loud.

For inspiration, consider reading these poems:

  • “When Great Trees Fall” by Maya Angelou
  • “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry
  • “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski
  • “Won’t You Celebrate with Me” by Lucille Clifton
  • “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo
  • “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz
  • “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • “I Worried” by Mary Oliver
  • “Election Years” by Donald Revell
  • “Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

As David Kessler says, “Emotions need motion.” Our feelings need to be acknowledged. Feeling and expressing our emotions tends to empower us, so “feel the grief and get going.”