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September 2016

Contributors to Poets Online don't need to be told that poetry can contribute to healing. As readers and as writers of poetry, we can all think of instances when a poem helped us or someone we know to heal.

Healing can be taken literally, as in coping with diseases both physical and mental. And healing can be seen as that process that moves us through transformation and into growth from a bad place to a better one.

In "Finding the Words to Say It: The Healing Power of Poetry", Robert Carroll writes about his use of poetry (his own and others) to facilitate healing.

"In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, poetry sprang up everywhere. A New York Times article on October 1, 2001, documented the phenomenon: “In the weeks since the terrorist attacks, people have been consoling themselves—and one another—with poetry in an almost unprecedented way … Improvised memorials often conceived around poems sprang up all over the city, in store windows, at bus stops, in Washington Square Park, Brooklyn Heights, and elsewhere. …” 
Some catastrophes are so large, they seem to overwhelm ordinary language. Immediately after the recent tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia, the Los Angeles Times reported the witnesses were literally dumbstruck. Words failed them. They had lost their voices. 
In mainstream culture, there are subjects we do not talk about. They are taboo. For example, even though each of us is going to die, we don't talk about dying. Instead, we avoid it. Even physicians are reluctant to talk with terminally ill patients about the patient's experience... 
Poetry gives us ways to talk about it. My job as a poetry therapist is to use poetry and voice to help people get access to the wisdom they already have but cannot experience because they cannot find the words in ordinary language."

I wouldn't recommend poetry as "alternative medicine" or as a substitute for traditional medicine, but I would recommend it as a supplement to any treatments.

For this writing prompt, I was more interested in the figurative sense of healing, but there are certainly many examples of poets who have used the more literal sense of healing in their poems.

You may not be aware of "poetry therapy" which is defined by the National Association for Poetry Therapy as "the intentional use of the written and spoken word to facilitate healing, growth and transformation." Their membership includes mental health providers, medically trained physicians, nurses, educators, and artists, writers and others who use poems or the writing process as a healing practice.

I have always found that being out in nature feels like healing to me. This feeling is captured simply in our model poem, "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry.  He says "When despair for the world grows in me" that he will "lie down where the wood drake / rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds."

What is it that we find there that feels like it can heal us? I think we envy at moments like that the wild things "who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief" and want to be in that freeing place, if only for a short time.

Our September writing prompt is simply "healing."

There is a very good list of healing poems at, and the collection, The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, also has some good examples, and many articles online, such as "Poetry and Healing."

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


No matter how cloud-covered the moon is, or new,
a light will permeate the darkness.
It bends and bounces, radiates, penetrates,
and passes through walls thickened by grief.

There is a light that permeates the darkness,
Morning’s wake will not forsake you.
Within the thickest walls of desperate grief,
a glowing ember will spark.

The morning light will not forsake you,
ignited by grace, kindled by love.
A glowing ember will spark anew;
your darkest night will at last give way.

Kindled by the rub of growing love,
light bends and bounces, radiates, penetrates.
Your darkest night will at last give way,
no matter how cloud-covered the moon is, or new.

Cynthia Grady


Last year I lost a grandbaby.
Lost my husband in April.
I'm in danger of losing my house.

Yet loss, if looked
at in a different way,
is nothing more than vacancy,
and vacancy lends itself to fulfillment.

Mother Nature doesn't tolerate

She fills them in, and I will, too.

Bobbie Townsend


Take deep breaths
count slowly
imagine yourself in nature

Your first soother is to eat
every pignoli cookie in the tin
chug down chilled milk
and leave trace crumbs and lipstick on the carton

In repeat dream
you can still see image after image
a long skinny house with railroad rooms
down to the patterns in the delft china
but you must run

Yet, you never quite heal
though your garden of roses gesture
Get over it.

So you start by spending three glorious days at Lake Seneca

     dig up slate stones one by one
     that nature dropped by the dock
     in the buzz of early summer
     you lounge in piercing sunlight
     swim by dockside
     to brain-freeze your fears
     after the tasting at the Weimer's winery
     you take a moonlight ride on the lake
     where the houses and boat slips squint out
     only warning lights of shoreline and rock ledges\\

No, you cannot forget.

Lisa Salerno Honecker


A long day of work, a longer day without any, the horrors around us, the monsters within, the stray unnerving stick- like-glue thoughts that can’t be un-stuck

And then I turn on the radio - how quaint, I know. I listen to the familiar voices, rhythms, and cadences; the muted babble and pounding chants from the crowd; the unison of exclamation, the musical percussion of thousands of hands, the crack of a bat connecting with its target, the satisfying leathery “whump” of the catcher’s mitt as the ball is snatched from the air and grasped in its pocket

Such are the sounds that lull me back to my childhood -and like that I am home again – beneath the bare neon fluorescent light, dad and I sit side by side at our kitchen table spending our special time together -in one of the few ways we ever did - no bike or driving lessons, no vacations or road trips, no college graduation day, no father daughter dance and no grandchild introductions

but this - The love of an old ball and stick and the salve culled from a symphony of familiar sounds and melodic banter, the practiced delivery of barely changed terminology of a language both unique and ubiquitous

And it is in this that I find solace – in a decades old continuity, in the impossible static warp which transports me back to a place of steadfast love and paternal protection - no peanuts or crackerjacks needed

Terri J. Guttilla


In my Lazarus time
the greys went to ghosts
the ghosts bleached to white
all color was dying.

But you held close my guts
in the citadel of your soul.

R. Bremner


“There is no healing power in words,” he said.
“The lines that poets write do not bring peace,
Nor recompense, nor friendship, love, or rest.
Did you think life was fair? Did you not read
Jude? Those bitter lines penned at Marygreen,
When all alone he could not grasp those runes
And begged for someone, anyone, to come?
'But no one came, since no one ever does.'
Were you not the guest on that high plateau?
The Impercipient? The Man who felt
The cold? Did you not heed the simple truth
Arnold struggled to define—the dark land,
The moon glittering on the shingled beach?
All the while you lived as one entranced,
Beguiled by booze and sex and promised love;
The neediness of children, many friends,
A high calling to impart eternal truth.
Yes, heedless of everything you had learned,
You grasped at life like the most beguiled sot,
Wiled the days away, taking on endless tasks,
One by one, till everything you loved had
Gone. Now, at life’s end, with dimming days,
You watch your elders drop into old age
Dependent on the grudging love of those
Bound by blood, or the false cheer of paid care.
Now do you understand those words of Oedipus
About ‘strengthless age’ on that lonely road
At Colonus, where he paid for his ignorance?
No, there is no healing power in words, no
Balm to sooth, nor words to take away the pain.
Better to stand with Marcus on the Rhine
Than read those lines so arrogantly penned.”

Robert Miller


Becoming sane is a craft.
Not an art exactly,
because, let's face it,
no one does it beautifully.

The fact that it happens
at all
is miracle enough.

No, becoming sane when one is insane
resembles those 2nd grade school projects
made with popsicle sticks and glue.

Something to do with substance.
And something to do with holding things together.

Anita Sanz


The Holy Land Experience in Orlando was disheartening.
Above the monumental fiberglass stable,
Where a trumpeting angel should have been,
There was a maintenance crew in a cherry picker,
Dousing the giant Holy Family with cleaning spray,
Scrubbing highway grime off their beatific faces;
A selfie like that, of Jesus and Mary crying over your shoulder,
Would be humiliating to post on Facebook.

So you thought a trip to Cassadaga,
The world center for psychics and mediums, would be more helpful.
But it had its own disappointments.
First, the Healing Grotto was closed;

Then the woman at the crystal shop and museum told you
That the reason your aura was hard to photograph
Was because of your beginner’s mistake
Of combining amethyst and malachite in your necklace;

Even the psychic who took twenty-five dollars to hold your hand
Wasn’t convincing when she explained
That your guardian angels care so much for you
Their crowding blurs your pictures.

So, to clear your head, you strolled near Spirit Lake,
Stopping where the Wellness Spring once flowed.
All that you saw there were four white herons
Staring at their own reflections in the water;
But they weren’t worthy of a photo with you,

Especially since there was a scheduled séance at the Casadaga Hotel;
And if you hurried, you could watch the licensed medium
Summon the ghosts who stroll these shabby grounds.
Now, your selfie with them might go viral.

Ron Yazinski