A Poet's Double Life

For poets working outside the literary world.

Poet Heal Thyself

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A research study of older adults in New Zealand demonstrated the power of writing in the healing process. The study assigned two groups to write about their lives. The first group was asked to write about a traumatic event, how they felt about it at the time, and to share thoughts and emotions they had never expressed. The second group wrote about their plans for the next day with no mentions of their feelings. The researchers took small biopsies of their skin and photographed the wounds to see how they were healing. After 11 days, the 76% of the people that hard written about their feelings had fully healed compared to only 42% in the other group.

This study completely fascinated me because it provided credible evidence of writing as a way to heal physical wounds. I know from personal experience that writing can heal emotional wounds. I started writing in late 2004, about a year after my father’s death in a car accident and the end of a 10-year relationship. Reading a book of poetry by Edna St Vincent Millay triggered the outpouring of emotions that I had kept to myself. Many studies have shown the benefits of writing for physical and emotional well-being. In fact, a recent article reported that Pierce Brosnan–Remington Steele and James Bond–is writing poetry to cope with the grief of his daughter’s death. However, writing about pain and grief doesn’t make you a poet; only when you aim to share that experience with others can your writing benefit the greater good. As James Baldwin once said, “your suffering means something only to the extent that people can attach their suffering to yours.”

In his craft talk at Cave Canem, Chris Abani posited, “all writing comes from an existential wound.” In his mind, wounds are not to be confused with suffering—to have a wound is not the same as being wounded. Abani believes that recognizing a wound is the key to opening up everything. The narrative of the wound becomes the story we’re telling—it is the driving force behind why we write. As poets, writing from a wounded place can bring more than self-healing. When our writing speaks from that existential wound, we can connect to others in a deeper way and be the catalyst for healing ourselves as well as our readers.

Author: poetsdoublelife

Poet and strategy/data guru living in Massachusetts.

One thought on “Poet Heal Thyself

  1. Hi, Pam:  Interesting concept.  I’d always assumed there was a psychic benefit to “getting it out there” but I’d never thought about a physical effect.  I’ve recently posted a story (the “Virgin Territory” one) that I thought of as mostly amusing and two readers wrote to say how much of my pain they shared.  Now I wonder if I failed to empathize enough with myself!  totally confusing.    Stay cool.   Stuart


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