Poetry is one of the most powerful art forms we have. Since ancient times, poems — from haikus to sonnets to limericks — have succinctly and beautifully translated the joys and sorrows of the world onto the page. But did you know writing poetry also has numerous health benefits? April is National Poetry Month, a holiday founded by the Academy of American Poets in 1996; so in honor of this literary occasion, we’re taking a look at how exactly poetry can benefit your mind and nourish your soul — plus, offering some tips to write your own.
What are some of the benefits of poetry?
Much like learning to play a musical instrument or listening to your favorite tunes, reading and writing poetry can have positive effects on your mental health. A 2020 article in the Journal of Medical Humanities looked at how poetry helped to lessen people’s loneliness during the pandemic, citing additional studies that indicated reading, writing, and listening to poetry may even ease feelings of physical pain and provide temporary relief in dealing with stressful situations like chronic illness. Poetry may also help those suffering from cognitive decline, as evidenced by the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, an organization using poetry recitation to help boost the brain activity and happiness of Alzheimer’s patients.
Poetry can additionally force us to flex our empathy muscles, by exposing us to different cultures, expression styles, and points of view. As a form of therapy, it can help people engage in self-discovery and allow them to process complex emotions through writing.
Whether you’re reading, reciting, memorizing, or merely listening to a poem, this art form can clearly have a surprisingly powerful effect. Ready to channel your creative side and express some of your thoughts or feelings on the page? Try writing a poem of your own. If you don’t know where to begin, start with the haiku — this form of Japanese verse is both simple and profound.
How do I write a haiku?
Haikus date back to thirteenth century Japan. Unlike some other poetic forms, the rules of writing haiku are quite strict and easy to follow — for this reason, they are often used as a means of introducing poetry to children.
So, what exactly is a haiku? It’s a three-line poem with a specific number of syllables in each line. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five syllables. The Academy of American Poets notes that haikus often focus on images from nature — this could mean flowers in your garden, the view of the sky from your window, or the melancholy feel of a rainy day — and emphasize “simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression.”
One of the best-known haikus is from Matsuo Basho, a Japanese poet who wrote in the 17th century. You can see how it follows the aforementioned syllable structure (note that this can vary, as the poem has been translated from its original Japanese in many different versions), and paints a plainspoken yet vivid picture of nature.
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.
Happy Poetry Month!
Writing a haiku (or any form of poetry, for that. matter) can be a meditative experience. This minimal form of expression will encourage you to find beauty in the little things; and slowing down and practicing mindfulness is a great way to deal with the stresses of everyday life. We hope you’re able to enjoy the healing powers of poetry this month — and maybe even try crafting your own. If you do, leave your haiku in the comments.
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