When Last Did You Sit Down to Write A Poem? Poetry Has the Power to Heal, to be Universal, and to Be Eternal

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I was speaking to one of my students yesterday, and poetry as a subject came up as it usually does. She’d just written a poem that morning about certain things she felt so strongly about that only a poem could get to. “I discover that every time I feel terrible, I write a poem,” she said with that look students will give a teacher this time of year. These are the days for term papers and worries about exams and family needs and the holidays and more family and more family. “Poetry comes from deeply felt emotions,” I said to her as we walked the concrete walkway from my office to class.

Poetry is not religion, not faith, and unlike God, poetry cannot bring the kind of peace we seek when we draw close to God in our deepest moments of pain and sorrow. So, let’s not get things confused here. We are not talking about poetry in place of faith or God. And yet poetry heals. I am speaking from personal experience, I tell you. Poetry has the ability to dig deep inside our souls, inside our inner selves to find that little spot where nothing human or of human can reach. When one feels that sort of pain and anger, that feeling that seems to be of the incurable, then this is the moment to sit down quietly and reflect until a poem is birthed. Often, that poem about pain and sorrow may not be an Emily Dickinson poem or a T.S. Eliot sort of poem, and yet, something inside of such a poem is as worthy as Dickinson’s or Eliot’s or as of any other famous world poet whose fame is based on the power of their poetry.

This sort of poem written at such a moment is significant because it does something powerful for the writer who at a moment in a moment may only find strength and faith in the words expressed in a poem written in the moment. That poem can do so much as to console or bring out raw feelings, dig into the pain for that spot where healing may begin. Sometimes a poem can even keep the suicidal person from committing suicide since in that moment of wanting to write and finally writing down those feelings can empty the ill feelings out of the individual, and therefore bring about complete healing or the beginning of healing.

Poetry writing is an art of reaching deep inside to bring out what no one knows about, but the person writing the poem. That is a powerful thing- the ability to put on to paper something forbidden or evil or painful or taboo, angry or sad, the ability to empty the garbage that is destructive in a living person, therefore, purging that individual clean. That is the power of poetry. Everywhere in the world, people write poetry or recite poetry or sing poetry, and in that art, they find healing.

Another important thing about this thing, which is only an art, a simple art of reaching inside oneself is that it is Eternal. Poetry was in the beginning and will live on long after we are gone. When, according to the Christian Gospel, we read in Genesis that “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth,” it is poetry alive. The very word with which the earth was created according to the Gospel is scientifically poetic, and yet real for the believer. But the most powerful reality is that the poet, the true and powerful poet and the poetry of the poet are both eternal.

Read the following poems taken from Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues, 1998) my first book of poetry, and see whether you will not recognize the process of healing taking place in the mind of the poet/individual at the moment of writing these poems. In one, the speaker is at a moment of reconciling anger from something, perhaps, pain with the reality of the sovereignty of God. In the second, there is so much pain, the speaker wrestles with the question of mourning after a tragedy, and yet, the last, the speaker’s anger takes the place of poking fun at a certain group of women. All of these are to me a way of seeking and finding healing. Poetry should heal both the writer and the reader, whatever form it takes, written or spoken.

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The International Poetry Festival of Medellin is one of the evidences that poetry indeed, heals!

Surrender

 

So often, I want to make you;
roll you, reshape you, a ball of clay
after my say
I want to squeeze you,
my play dough, an image,
into my image.
I want to melt you, shape you, like gold;
polish you, mold you into a charm
to be sold.

My little woodwork, carve you,
make you my Kissi ritual mask.
I want to hang you
so often, around these, my walls,
make you my little talisman,
swing you, my little magic wand.

My pungent, leafy voodoo,
my sum, my boiling pot of juju.
My little protective pin
about my fabric life, about my pieces.
I want to ride you, my cruising Pajaro.
Suddenly, there
you are, always God.

Now, it is your turn. here, roll me,
reshape me, pat me, mold me,
heating the clay on my flesh,
after your flesh.

Grip hold of my mascara cheeks, my charms
of gold bracelets, binding my life.
Melt all my magic wands,
my bulging, voodoo eyes.
Take hold of my big, bleeding heart,
my boiling pot of juju, my beads
of charms, my me.
And if I’m not yet surrendered,
my God, vanquish me.
—-Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

 

349680602_15a24e3c35_m-robertsport-fishing-boats.jpgPhoto of Robertsport fishing boats, Liberia

What Dirge
__________________________________________

So what shall I use to wipe my brow?
To bring back a life
snatched away in its prime?
What shall I say, and what shall I lay hands
so helpless upon to wipe the sorrow
from my brow?

What shall I wear to mourn a life
whose end has dealt us this blow?
Shall I wear black, so when our townswomen,
hearing the drums, come wailing, wailing,
they shall see the sorrow
of my heart on my dark lappa?

Shall I tie a string around my forehead?
Shall I lie prostrate on The Mat?
Shall I cry tears for those you’ve left us to feed
when we ourselves cannot feed ourselves
in a land where the hungry, forever hungry,
keep the faith?

What dirge shall I sing?
Shall I recount the battles fought at Nganlun?
Shall I sing of blood shed at the cracking of a gun
when I myself am so afraid of the gun?
What shall I say when the women,
hearing my song, come wailing
and knocking at my door?

—-Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Monrovia Women
___________________________________


Monrovia women . . .
Here they come!
You see their colorful faces
before you know their hearts.
Shining, red lips, red cheeks,
painted eyelids and lashes.
Perhaps they would like
to paint their pupils, too!
Their eyebrows take to various routes
to suit their longing hearts.

Aye, Monrovia women . . .
Look at their necks!
You could build a mansion
from jewelry a single woman wears.
Sometimes, like Indians,
their noses wear gold rings,
while their ears themselves
wear several others too.

You have yet to see their hands . . .
Long nails painted
to match the various hues
their eyes and cheeks wear.
Fingers held apart
by heavy gold rings.
Oh, you should see them
walking down the road.

Monrovia women . . .
In evening gowns and dresses,
lappa suits and costly coats,
on their way to work.
You should see them at work!
They nurse and paint their nails all day,
and guide their skirts from hooking
on to a rustic nail.

Monrovia women . . .
Strolling in the humid sun
in high, expensive shoes.
If you would stop
to ask their toes
how much fun it really is,
walking in such heels,
I’m sure you’d say aye-yah,
for our poor Monrovia women.

—-Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
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