The Amazing Power of Poetry
Poetry has superpowers. It smashes down walls, builds bridges and burns itself into the memory with the fire of a branding iron. Poetry can leave grown men weeping and bring a smile to the mouths of the most sullen. Whether it grabs the attention with a steady, snappy, syncopated beat or leaves you wanting more as it quietly weaves a misty, meandering tangled web of emotion and longing, poetry speaks to you.
And we all need someone to speak to us.
Poetry can help communication with people with dementia
The spoken word can be a barrier for some sections of society, very young children or older people with communication failure.
In my time working with elderly and young people, I have found that rhyme and rhythm can open doors and allow interaction and connection. Music and song are widely recognised as keys to unlock communication; poetry can too.
The repetitive sounds of rhymes stimulate short term memory. A steady rhythmic beat soon attracts and holds the attention. Even if the ability to comprehend the language is not there, the rhyme and rhythm will bridge communication gaps.
And…as importantly…poems can be fun.
Nothing joins people together faster than a smile.
The emotional power of poetry
Poetry has the seductive power to entrance the mind of the listener. Hearing a poem given a voice by someone who understands it as an old friend brings it to life. Each word is caressed and savoured before being gently released to wash over its audience.
The soothing lilt of carefully chosen sounds barely disturb the air lest they awaken the mind. For such poetry is heard by the heart alone. To analyse it with rational thought is to tear at the petals of the lotus until no flower remains. To pluck and examine the beauty and intricacy of a bird’s feather renders it unable to fly.
Likewise, poetry can hit, smash, like a tidal wave of emotion – an assault on the senses. Poetry can be forceful. Angry, bitter – spat out from the depths of a bile-filled throat to share its wounds. A rock thrown from the depths of the soul. It cuts and bruises the skin of anyone who comprehends the experience it shouts about. Renewing the pain and displaying it in a violent painting of sound.
Poetry can reveal deepest, darkest secrets, throwing the gaudy covers aside to show the world the naked truth.
It can also be a defiant display of strength in the face of adversity. Perhaps a mourning for what could, or should, have been. Or what was and is no more.
A poem can soar with the eagle as it drives across the sky, wing-tips swirling the edges of clouds and sending them sun-wards. It can, almost in the same frosted breath, become small as the tiny mouse picking its way through a misty, dew-drenched field.
Poetry can proclaim victories, sing of valiant heroes, retell history or invent new futures.
It can mould, break, reveal and cover…poetry has superpowers!
Poetry burns itself into the memory
People who learned poems in school can recite them into old age. Often with a fluency which amazes, as life has otherwise left them without joined up speech. Songs too. You see, poetry is a song without any music. No less beautiful.
I often found that elderly friends missed a favourite poem or piece of prose. If they could give me one line, the internet could provide the rest. More than once, I have shared the emotional reunion of speaker and poem as we sat and recited the words together.
It was like watching the lights finally come back on after a storm. The power of poetry giving a person a delicate dignity as they relived their youth. A beautiful experience I was always grateful for.
The people I worked with were eager to hear the old favourites and also poems they had not encountered before. We were even graced with some who had written their own over the years. Watching them read their own words to a hushed silence was like watching a flower begin to bloom.
Meditation and trance- poetic mindfulness.
Poetry can induce a trance-like state when delivered empathetically. The story draws the picture boards, the voice evokes the emotions. Reading poetry can elicit similar absorption. If the atmosphere is conducive, it is possible to become immersed in the poem, to BE the poem.
There are times when the actual words are secondary to the tone and pace of the voice.
This is a form of mindfulness. A guided meditation led by the power of poetry.
Children also react well to poetry…rhyme in particular catches their attention. In emphasising the sound of the words, short poems cement them into the memory. And…so very importantly…it gives the child a love of words, of language.
I have a page of rhymes written for children.
I have also written some amusing and engaging poems along with explanatory text which explains dementia to children. WHY DOESN’T GRANNY KNOW ME NOW? was a question asked by a young child after a visit to his granny. Heartbreaking!
During education, a child can regard words as the enemy, the barrier between them and knowledge. Reading becomes a chore if it is just for the sake of learning something they have little interest in.
But here you can harness the power of poetry! A simple rhyme shows children that words can be used creatively. Vocabulary can be fun. And you can sneak a little education in at the same time.
Rhyme or rhythm prompts the child to recall the next line – and therefore remember the fun or fact hidden in it.
It shows them how words work together in a cooperative way to create a short story. And after a few times, they can shout out the final, rhyming word of each line. Thus, creating a sense of pride and achievement.
If parents keep a little store of nursery rhymes and fun rhymes in their minds, it saves the day when waiting in line without a toy or other distraction. It is interactive, motivational, educational…AND FUN!
Once a child understands more about language, they can be encouraged to provide a line or two in home-made poems.
And, having been given a faith in language, the child may communicate more openly and confidently.
That’s a poetic superpower! The power of poetry never ceases to amaze!
Until next time…may your feet keep pace with the rhythm and your words rhyme.
I also work on Motorhome Hobos