Can a Poem Save Your Life?

Write a Poem, Save Your Life: A Guide for Teens, Teachers, and Writers of All Ages by Meredith Heller

“The first line is a gift, whispered in my ear; I don’t know where it comes from, but I know it’s my lifeline. I grab hold of the words, write them down, and then dive in and write . . . until I’ve finished a new poem or song. Working on poetry becomes a reason to live, something bigger than me, a way to channel my overwhelming feelings and make something tangible, make beauty from suffering.”

What a great description of poetry. Reading this book has reminded me that it has been too long since I have written a poem. I plan to follow some of the exercises that Heller suggests here. She gets us ready for writing by inviting us to start thinking about something and then encourages us to “Just Write!”

Many of the activities in this book could be used by teachers as well. Heller talks about how poetry can reach a wide variety of students.

“I had an epiphany: if I could get to the kids who were like me, bright and creative, who learn differently, and who don’t fit in, if I could help them know their worth and their capabilities, discover their passion and their purpose before they give up on themselves and society, then everything I’d been through would be worth something.”

She stresses that creativity cannot be taught, but we can teach students, and ourselves a lot by remaining open . . .

“I don’t really believe that was can teach creativivty or poetic writing, but I do believe that we can hone our ability to notice what moves us. We can develop a love of language and the joy that comes from working to find just the right word and rhythm to convey our feelings. I have found that magic happens when we name our thoughts and feelings, commit them to paper, speak them out loud. We feel a sense of belonging to ourselves and others when we express ourselves clearly, feel understood, and see that other people resonate with our experience in a way that illuminates their own.”

She also encourages us to write the old-fashioned way.

“Do all the writing invitations in this book using old-fashioned paper and pen . . . something magical happens when we put pen to paper.”

And how about this secret weapon?

When I’m having trouble getting the poetry to flow, I use my secret weapon! I pull the seventh book off my bookshelf, open it to page 7, and write down the words from the seventh line, no matter how weird or out of context. I use these words as the first line of my poem to get me started or as the last line that I build up to.

I also like this idea of collecting wild words.

“Wild words pop up . . . where you least expect them. . . It can be a word or phrase that just pops into your head out of the blue . . . These are words that grab your attention, words that jump in you pocket and want you to take them home with you. . . Gather ten to twenty wild words or phrases. Sit with each like a treasure . . . Collect your wild words or phrases . . . over the course of a day or week. . . Let them marinate. . . . take them out, one at a time, and start arranging them . . . Feel free to add any words you need to make your poem.”

I think teachers, students, songwriters, and anyone who would like to write poetry will inspiration in this book.

My Annual Reading Log for 2021

Teaching Tips