For years I’ve been telling my students that it’s not an exaggeration to say that poetry has saved my life. But I never really explored, or was able to explain, why I thought that was so.  

But I think I finally have a theory. . .

The gift of poetry, whether in reading it or writing it, is that it allows us to:

–slow down both life and time

–search for the specific

–luxuriate in the details

–see the beauty in the world

–document our experience

–focus on the moment

–take time for ourselves 

–notice, observe, reflect, and meditate 

Take for instance, the specific, clear detail and precise moment and nuanced observation documented in the opening of Mary Oliver’s poem “Spring Azures*”: 

“In spring the blue azures bow down/at the edges of shallow puddles/to drink the black rain water.”

Or in Paul Muldoon’s poem “The Sonogram”:

“Only a few weeks ago, the sonogram of Jean’s womb/resembled nothing so much/as a satellite-map of Ireland.” 

Or in my own poem “Coyote Boys” where I was sitting at my kitchen table one night and simply captured what I noted about the moment when I wrote:

“A pack of coyotes/yammers in the canyon/behind our house/like a wild chorus/like a feral boy band/warming up before a concert.” 

These examples allow us to stop and take notice of what’s going on around us in an artful and thoughtful way. It conditions us to value where we are, to search for details that matter.

I’m sure you’re way ahead of me on this, but I only recently realized that I love poetry because it make me more mindful.  In fact, poetry has been helping to keep me more mindful for over four decades, long before I knew what mindfulness was, before I knew why it was important, or before I possessed a vocabulary to communicate about it.  

Turns out, poetry and mindfulness both give us permission to focus on the moment, to see the world through individual, specific details, to meditate and reflect on what we’re seeing and hearing, and to notice and observe the life that is occurring around us right now. 

Quite an amazing gift, when you think about it! 

All I knew, growing up, was that I felt better when I read or wrote poetry because I knew instinctively that, in some way I was unable to articulate, I was accessing, exploring, and touching what was deepest about life, experiencing and exploring what mattered most. Even when I was teased or bullied for my love of poetry (I was a poetry-loving boy in a middle school full of tough guys who smoked cigarettes and spent evenings and weekends tinkering with their father’s cars. . .In other words, boys in front of whom I would never use the word “tinkering”), I realized that I knew something they didn’t.  And it helped.

And allowing myself to read or write those words, observe those moments, and catalogue those individual moments of my existence quite simply, and without exaggeration, as I said, saved my life.  TZT 

*I was unable to find a reading of “Spring Azures,” but please enjoy the video of another of my favorite Mary Oliver poems called “Wild Geese.”