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Life for the Better

Life for the Better

by Ashley Steineger, Poetry Therapist


Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that read: “Honk if you’re letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” a delightful nod to Mary Oliver’s timeless poem Wild Geese . In the middle of lunchtime traffic, a wave of deep gratitude submerged my heart, and I drove home thinking about how much poetry has enriched my life. Every day I’m alive is poetry, a gorgeous and messy dance with a world and self I haven’t always loved.

As a child, I wrote fistfuls of poems, furiously scribbling in notebooks, textbooks, napkins, anything that would accept my pen. I wrote to make sense of the constant barrage of anxious and obsessive thoughts that lived in my head. Somehow, reading and writing poetry made those thoughts less scary, more understandable. When I was 12, I shared my poetry with a therapist who told me, gently, “You write a lot of poems about death.” I was instantly embarrassed, but secretly relieved that someone could finally see what was going on inside me.


After I became a psychologist, I practiced for 10 years before obtaining my MFA in Poetry. I now proudly call myself a Poetry Therapist and regularly use poetry in sessions with my clients because I know how healing verse can be.


Poetry can and will change your life for the better.


Poetry heals us by taking our pain and grief, which we may struggle to find meaning within, and transmutes it into something beautiful, something shareable. Through metaphor, songfulness, and symbol, poetry takes pain and gives it purpose. It’s so much easier to make sense of something purposeful. A troubling event or emotion feels a little less sharp or confusing when it’s on the page instead of locked up inside the mind.


Poetry heals us by taking beauty and shining a spotlight on that beautiful thing for all to see. Barbara Kingsolver speaks to this when she said: “In my own worst seasons, I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing…” With poetry, we celebrate beautiful things and ideas within our poems, and also add to the world’s beauty by creating the poem itself. Poetry is beauty compounding itself over and over.


Poetry heals us by offering a safe and nonjudgmental space to participate in catharsis of body, mind, heart and soul. When painful or damaging emotions are kept hidden, no one can help us. They eat away at joy. On the page, we can step back and examine these emotions, or let someone else take over for awhile.


Poetry heals us by opening our awareness to the sufferings, joys, and insights of others which increases empathy and promotes togetherness. My goal after the worst of Covid ended was to attend more in-person poetry readings and open mics. I have been gifted such understanding and perspective through the words of other poets. For an at-home experience, The Slowdown and Poetry Unbound are phenomenal podcasts that read, analyze, and discuss modern poems and poets.


Whenever I need to remind myself why life is amazing, I read a poem. Whenever the world reminds me how terrible it can be, how overwhelming, I engage with poetry to help me process. When I’m grieving, I read or write a poem. When I’m not grieving, a well-timed grief poem can really help fill me with love and gratitude for our shared human experience.


I’m not here to prove how miraculous and therapeutic poetry can be. I’m already convinced of that. Really, I wanted to pass along the reminder that poetry is everywhere, which means healing is everywhere. In the tall grass, in the sunset, in the dark room, on the bumper sticker of 95’ silver Prius. Look for it. Embrace it. Be it. If you let it, poetry can and will change you in so many miraculous and beautiful ways.


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Each week, I will post a few poems or fun and inspiring information articles about poetry. If you would like to have a poem published on the blog, please contact me for more information!


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