Poetry and Chronic Illness
Poetry Is …
Poetry by nature is challenging to define. Some of the greats provide a bit of insight:
William Wordsworth wrote, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.“
Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
And Mary Oliver stated this, “Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”
Poetry Invites Us to Notice
Poetry invites us to notice – the slant of the late afternoon sun; the cool, refreshing water pouring from a tap; crisp sheets fresh from the line; the sweet nuzzle of a puppy; the bubbling laughter of a child; the smell of rich, black coffee; the creak of a wooden stair; the sigh of wind through firs – and to explore – the symptoms, confusion, loss, grief, and uncertainty of chronic pain and illness; to collect the moments, days and small victories; to follow the rhythm and sway of the words as they find their way to the page; to dip our fingers deeper into the wellspring of our faith; and to discover God’s still small voice in brand new ways.
“…[P]oetry,” writes Phyllis Klein, “gives rhythm to silence, light to darkness. In poetry we find the magic of metaphor, compactness of expression, use of the five senses, and simplicity or complexity of meaning in a few lines.”
Poetry Requires Stillness, Patience, and Time
Poetry is an activity requiring stillness and patience and time. Dr. Rowan Williams poignantly wrote, “… there are some poems that walk in and sit down. You hear them coming in … there are others where you have to listen and listen. It takes forever for things to assemble around the core.”
Rainier Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, wrote, “Have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and try to cherish the questions themselves … Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.”
Poetry Invites Us to Lean Into the Questions
Illness challenges us with difficult emotions and strings of difficult days. Poetry invites us to lean into the questions we face without needing immediate answers, to pause and breathe and listen, to quietly notice.
Roger Housden said, “Poetry is a way of rescuing the world from oblivion by the practice of attention. It is our attention that honors and gives value to living things … that retrieves them from the obscurity of the general. Poems that galvanize my attention shake me awake. They pass on their attentiveness, their prayerfulness, to me … poetry can make us more fully human, and more fully engaged in this world.”
Poetry Engages Us
Poetry engages us with our senses, creation, and God. It offers us a way to observe, to hold the moments in our hands, turn them over, and look at them from a new perspective. It is another way to process the emotions of chronic illness, to explore, create, and find our voice.
We welcome poetry submissions touching on any aspect of chronic physical or mental illness for publication. You’ll find our Submission Guidelines here.
Poetry, as Mary Oliver might say, calls to us like wild geese from an open sky.
The Melody my muscles, joints do not agree with the cold every fibre aching as I cried out this is how the Lord responded when the pain sings listen to the melody and find Me there in the low notes the long wails staccato beat you will hear My voice draw your strength from My...
If only I was healthy, LORD,How happy I would be.No more spacing out my activities;Low energy would not hinder me.I’d help my friends and neighborsAnd do for others all the while.I’d visit people in nursing homesAnd do it with a smile.I’d shop until I drop,No more limited time on my feet.I’d...
This month's Poetry Prompt explores the idea of thorns. Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Hope is Like a Harebell by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) Hope is like a harebell,...
Poetry allows us to explore chronic illness – the symptoms, confusion, loss, grief, and uncertainty, the moments, days, and small victories from a different perspective, to journey with words, follow where they lead, and to give voice to difficult emotions and challenging days, to touch the wellspring of our faith and discover God’s still small voice in new and deeper ways.
An anthology of most of the poetry of Amy Carmichael – 565 poems gathered from her published books. The untitled poems were given titles and all were arranged by the editors under seven major headings: Worship, Petition, Surrender, Ministry, Wartime, Encouragement and Youthful Thoughts.
Throughout her celebrated career, Mary Oliver has touched countless readers with her brilliantly crafted verse, expounding on her love for the physical world and the powerful bonds between all living things. Identified as “far and away, this country’s best selling poet” by Dwight Garner, she now returns with a stunning and definitive collection of her writing from the last fifty years.
Part memoir, part humorous and poignant defense of poetry, this is a book that shows you what it is to live a life with poems at your side (and maybe in your Topo Chico®).
Megan Willome’s story is one you won’t want to put down; meanwhile, her uncanny ability to reveal the why’s and how’s of poetry keeps calling—to even the biggest poetry doubter. If you already enjoy poetry, her story and her wisdom and her ways will invite you to go deeper, with novel ideas on how to engage with poems.
Marilyn Chandler Mcentyre
Readers are invited to consider what caregivers and medical professionals may learn from poetry by patients. It offers reflections on poetry as a particularly apt vehicle for articulating the often isolating experiences of pain, fatigue, changed life rhythms, altered self-understanding, embarrassment, resistance, and acceptance.