Poetry for the Frozen Moment: Writing and Reading Your Grief

Poets carry death within them: the timed verse coming to a certain, expected end / the free verse often ending abruptly / in any case, the mystery of a meaning just beyond your grasp / the looking back, the looping back, the turning back while being pulled forcefully forward / the punch in the gut / the entire world of one experience burned into a picture painted with words / but not with words

It is not so much light that fallsWhen you’re grieving, you might — if you are a certain person — be looking for the words that will best soothe you, hold you, explain you, make you feel the opposite of the way you’re feeling (which is the way you’ve least wanted to feel, ever, your entire life). While poetry probably won’t turn your feelings into their opposite, some of it can, in fact, soothe, hold, explain, and take you to places with your grief that ordinary, linear writing — articles, books — simply cannot.

Poetry is numinous, walking the glowing, tenuous line between rational and non-rational thought, giving us access to a sense of the eternal, the god-within, the binding truth that transcends even death. Lingering in the space of the right poem — whatever that poem is for you: one you’ve found or one you’ve written or one you’re even writing right now — can be healing because it allows you to sidle up to the eternity of what has been lost, to breathe in that space between the sensate surreality of where you are now and the unfathomable, inaccessible beyond where your beloved lies.

No, poetry will not bring back the dead. But sometimes it can take you out of the hard reality of the frozen moment, the place where you have no words, to put a few trembling words together into some kind of meaning, some tangible shape or two in your mouth that you can taste and love for a moment.


Two poems about grief:

The Wanderer Returned
by Pablo Neruda

Inside myself I should find the absent ones,
that smell from the lumberyard;
perhaps the wheat that rippled on the slopes
still goes on growing, but only within me,
and it’s in myself that I must travel to find that woman
the rain bore off, and there is no other way.
Nothing can last in any other way.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)


If you want to write a poem in the midst of grief, take care of yourself throughout: drink water / breathe deep / keep your bare feet planted on the ground / but let the words run loose like wild deer / shifting between trees with the slightest turn of weight. Two of my favorite books for learning to write without biting your tongue are Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind.

If you want to find a poem, the best place to do it is at The Academy of American Poets’ website. Type in a word — grief, anguish, loss, floating, guilt, despair, whatever word you’re living in today — and see what comes up for you. And again: take care of yourself as you read. Crying, sobbing, and even screaming are okay. Tunneling into darkness with no intent of emerging is not. If you find yourself doing the latter, please get help. If you are in the Tacoma area, please consider contacting me to discuss the possibility of working together through your grief.

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