The Healing Power of Poetry
with Joy Roulier Sawyer
Poetry has long served as a healing balm for the soul—an exploration into beauty, balance, humor, wisdom, and love. Indeed, recent neurological research confirms yet another positive aspect of reading and writing verse: poetry is good for the brain.
In this course, you’ll journey alongside several poets whose works resonate with a variety of healing themes, and receive tips on choosing poems that are good springboards for your future writing. Our in-class reading is designed to help center and balance you, while the prompts in response will encourage writing that offers personal insight and wisdom.
In addition, we’ll also discuss basic principles of developmental poetry therapy, and how you might use this approach to write through normal life cycle events, such as birth, career, marriage, divorce, and death. You’ll also receive healing poetry homework that will continue to provide you creative nourishment throughout the week. No previous experience is needed for this poetry immersion.
Learning and Writing Goals
Students will learn:
- About many contemporary poets whose work is widely used in poetry therapy, among them: Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, Li-Young Li, George Ella Lyon, Amy Christman, William Stafford, J. Ruth Gendler, Derek Walcott, Starhawk, Pesha Gertler, Molly Fisk, and others.
- An overview of the Hynes & Hynes-Berry Biblio/Poetry Therapy model used in developmental poetry therapy, which is the model we’ll use to both read and respond to poetry. We’ll also visit literature selection criteria for choosing healing poems.
- Basic psychological and neurobiological research on the healing power of poetry.
- How good poetic craft—concrete, sensory, specific detail—contains inherently healing qualities.
- How to use basic craft elements, such as metaphor, anaphora, imagery, sound, rhythm, voice, and formal verse, as healing tools.
Students will write:
Students will generate 3 or 4 completed poems by the end of class.
This course will meet on Zoom on Wednesdays at 7:00-8:30 P.M. U.S. Eastern Time.
Week 1: Balance and Calm
We’ll read poems in class by Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Li-Young Lee, as well as write in response to poetry prompts designed to lead us into writing for balance and calm. In addition, we’ll discuss a few basic discoveries in the neurological benefits of both poetry and handwriting.
Week 2: Self-Love and Body Awareness
Our poets this week include U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, Derek Walcott, Amy Christman, and others. The writing prompts this week will focus on self-love, body awareness, and poetic devices for personal writing. We’ll also discuss basic principles of developmental poetry therapy.
Week 3: Poems as Springboards
We’ll continue our discussion on using poetry therapy principles to promote healing, as well as tips on how to choose poems as springboards for our own future writing. Poets include George Ella Lyon, J. Ruth Gendler, Starhawk, and others.
Week 4: Poetry for Personal Insight and Wisdom
We’ll wrap up our four weeks with a continuation of our healing poetry immersion by reading and writing in response to poems by Pesha Gertler, Molly Fisk, William Stafford, and others. Our conversation will also include ways to continue our class momentum toward using poetry for personal insight and wisdom.