What is it about poetry that “gets us right there?” It’s National Poetry Month, so I am asking.
Dr. Raphael Campo, a poet and physician at Harvard Medical school, puts it this way: “When we hear rhythmic language and recite poetry, our bodies translate crude sensory data into nuanced knowing — feeling becomes meaning.”
Imagine, a poet-physician arriving at nuanced knowing, the very place where feeling becomes meaning. It seems almost impossible doesn’t it? That our bodies are the translators. But who better than the ones who study the body to heal the body, to interpret the language it begets?
Not just the lub-dub, lub-dub in the rhythm of a heart beating. Surely, its beats per minute indicating healthy or not. Its volume signaling functional or not.
Not just the whoosh in, whoosh out of the respiring lungs. Their filling and emptying is surely essential to the operation of the organism.
Not just the electronic whir of signal transmission of the brain. And not just the regular pulse of blood through the arteries.
Not just and yet I can’t help but think that rhythm recognizes itself. Knows its kin. Tunes in and pays special attention to its own. That the body responds to poetry because the body is poetic. Lyrical. Creation set in motion. Without prompting or instruction, the toddler sways, the child twirls, the partners step toe to toe.
Just so, my soul recognizes and delights in rhythm. But there’s more to the poetic than rhythm. And that’s why it begs us to read it aloud, recite it, hear it spoken or performed. Verbalized, the poetic allows us to both gather the outline and sketch in the details. To give shape to the form and pour in the color. To chew and swallow, taste and smell. To bring it to life.
Just as the mind does for a well-told story. We know it. We feel it. It has meaning for us and uniquely to us. It draws out what is true from within us, and speaks urgently to our “right now.” Because that’s what we bring to it. And blessedly, so blessedly, we can all gather around poetry because there is not just one right answer.
Mind you, not just willy-nilly words will do this. It’s the culled, cultivated, carefully chosen words that settle deep. The true poet uses words and phrases expertly arranged with an ear for rhythm, a sense of style, how one word will relate to the next, and a feeling for how they will settle on their hearers. Though we each receive them in a slightly different way, if we dare to attend without withholding, poetry has the potential to wake up the poetic in us. To shed light in our darkness, to lift burden from our bearing, and to clarify our way into each new day.
We are all poets. Words animated. Sculpted from the raw materials gifted at first light. Honest words if we are brave enough. And so helpful in their moment to get us through our moment.
How does poetry work on us? as art... it feels I feel everything. I feel the loud. I feel the crush of bodies. I feel the eyes on me. I feel the distance between us. I feel the, no one is talking to me. I feel the, everyone has a friend but me. I feel the invisible. I am invisible. Let me go. I'll be going. I'll show myself out. Hey, what's your name? she called, as I turned to leave. I'm Deborah. I want to meet you. Wendy, I tell her. I was almost Wendy, she says, Until my mother's mother in law said I couldn't be. I love the name, Wendy. I've always wanted to be Wendy. Wendy suits you. So glad to meet you. I feel the quiet. I feel the smile. I feel the distance close. I feel the visible. I am visible.
Oh, Dear Poetry, you reach in and touch the deepest parts of us. May we be brave enough to endure it and bold enough to believe it so we can proudly proclaim it.
These days, being brave is not optional; it’s imperative. And the bravery I’m talking about doesn’t come from girding your loins and bucking up your confidence. It can’t be bought because it’s not for sale. But it is available. In fact, it’s essential to the life God wants you to lead. This is the message of Kelly Johnson’s new Christian women’s devotional book, Being Brave: A 40-Day Journey to the Life God Dreams for You. (Abingdon Press)
Her inspiration launches from a conversation with her young daughter who, sensing her mother’s frustration at not being able to solve the events of a day she found particularly overwhelming, said, “Mommy, I just need you to tell me I’m a brave soldier.”
We all need to put on our brave. But how? Where does it come from? Where can we find it? Where should we look? Johnson is clear: God names us brave. “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7
Johnson cleverly uncovers an acronym that she uses as the backbone of the 40 day journey. The building blocks of brave are being:
God’s spirit of Power helps us be bold and resilient. God’s spirit of Love helps us be authentic and vulnerable. God’s spirit of Self-discipline directs us to be engaged and empowers us. This devotional offers us the opportunity, through daily readings of scripture, story, prayer and reflection, to tackle what is holding us back and to discover what calls us forward. Our BRAVE says, Go on, take the Leap. I am with you in this.
As my mom used to say to me, “You’ll never know until you try.” When the stakes are low, that works, but when the stakes are higher, we need to hear someone tell us we’re brave. This devotional book will help you hear those words spoken to you in your own voice.
As I read TIME magazine’s powerful article detailing the stories of “the Silence Breakers,” whom they chose as this year’s Person(s) of the Year, I see this kind of BRAVE. In coming forward, they had everything to lose: yet, they were bold, resilient, authentic, and, while incredibly vulnerable, chose to engage with the world in a way that has ushered in incredible power. No timidity in sight. It’s why we believe them.
That’s what brave does. We don’t know what we can do until we try. After digging into Kelly Johnson’s book, you’ll be willing to try, too.
Find Kelly at her author page here.