The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
Humans spend most of their waking hours playing with what novelist Rudyard Kipling called “the most powerful drug used by mankind”—words. In the laboratories of our minds, we sort, slice, and string words, before breathing life into them with our voices.
At the hands of poets—the laboratory artisans—even the most quotidian of words can cast spells. Poets enjoy an intimate acquaintance with the medicinal shelves of language. They tinker with doses, stir flasks, and study the tastes and textures of the elements so that when their words are drunk by others, they are as precise and truthful as they are potent.
Why has poetry moved humans for millennia? Research in psychology offers various hypotheses: poetry arouses profound emotions and their psychophysiological signatures (goosebumps, tears), sends readers on a meaning-finding quest, gifts aesthetic pleasure, and engages the brain’s primary reward circuitry. Poems can even provide a “holding environment” that facilitates healing, and they have been used in clinical settings as part of cognitively based psychotherapies.
A share of poetry’s magic emerges by virtue of encountering validation of our innermost, unarticulated experiences, the relief and gratification of finally being seen. “Reading a poem can feel as if the world comes and finds us for the first time,” says poet David Whyte. This reconnaissance between self and world, maybe even “as a much larger identity than we held until that moment” is how poetry, according to Whyte, can prompt transfiguration.
Here are Whyte’s own words about this:
MP: How do words help poets “say the unsayable”?
DW: Words have a deep physical substrate inside us that stems from our past and even our original experiences with them. Poetry can stir the memory of words that reside in our bodies in different ways.
Poetry touches the moveable essence of things—words name life without stopping it. It is pure experience turned into pure expression. It restores the aliveness and the elemental nature of the very thing it’s describing, which may have become obscured by the veils we habitually create between ourselves and the world.
MP: Can we use words in everyday life to achieve some of poetry’s powerful effects?
DW: When we speak of “using” words, it’s as if we are commoditizing experience. The language itself bars us from apprehending words as an elemental force. Instead, we must live the words.
From time to time, all of us speak in poetic diction. For instance, when someone has to deliver the poignant news of death or loss to someone else, they’ll often unconsciously employ poetry. They will choose their words carefully so that there are no defenses against them. They will speak the words in an invitational manner, often repeating them in three different ways, which is a poetic form in many cultures. They will leave silence between words, to allow them to be received by the other person.
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