Poetry is one of the oldest forms of human expression. It can be found in every culture and society around the world.
Even though poetry has been around for a long time, it is still a meaningful way to communicate and express oneself. But what exactly makes poetry so special?
According to several poets and writers, the following are reasons why poetry is important.
Publicist, Poet, Writer, and Artisan Soupmaker
It represents a variety of genders, ethnicities, and creeds
I was a weird kid who found solace, understanding, and camaraderie in poetry, not unlike a lot of kids today who feel lonely, misunderstood, and without a champion. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were the poets who saved me.
The fact that today’s world of words is populated by entire new generations of vibrant voices representing a variety of genders, races, ethnicities, and creeds shows that not only is poetry important, but it also is growing in stature and practice.
Let’s thank slam poetry
For anyone who thinks that poetry is stiff, stifled, and inscrutable, they have never been to a poetry slam, which is:
- part poetry reading,
- part performance,
- part confession, and
- all enjoyment
Slams originated in Chicago in the 1980s when Marc Kelly Smith wanted to take poetry out of the library and into bookstores, bars, and cafés.
The idea took on a life of its own, and slams are still going strong today, drawing huge crowds.
I jumped on the bandwagon and started a reading series in central Pennsylvania, and we did indeed meet in bookstores, bars, and cafés. We ended each night with a limerick contest.
People would pay a dollar to enter, we would provide the first two lines, and entrants would provide the last three. Audience applause determined the winner, who took home the kitty. Participatory poetry — thank you, poetry slams.
Poetry in the digital age
Just as poetry slams invigorated the genre by making poetry more accessible, so has the internet. In fact, in a 2018 report, the National Endowment for the Arts said that people were reading poetry at an all-time high.
And many of the new readers and writers are people of color whose experience gives voice to other people of color who have not been heard before, which is amplified by sharing on social media.
YouTube has been an absolute boon for poetry, giving poets entry to audiences around the world.
This is an extremely powerful function of poetry, for it validates non-White experiences in both public and personal ways.
Amanda Gorman, who read her work at President Biden’s inauguration, is a Black woman that few had heard of before the inauguration. Now she has had two No. 1 collections on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Our newest US poet laureate, Ada Limón, is a Mexican American writer and joins other poets of color who had held this post since 1993 when Rita Dove became the first Black poet laureate: Natasha Tretheway, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Joy Harjo.
The genius of poetry
Regardless of whether a poem is written as a sonnet or villanelle, or free verse, poetry is the most condensed form of language.
Every word in a poem has a meaning, and the total sum of those words creates an emotional response for the audience — that’s the genius of poetry.
Poems inform, inspire, and evoke.
- They make us listen closely.
- They tug on our heartstrings.
- They sometimes break our hearts.
- They confirm the human experience.
- They make us feel less alone and more alive.
When people tell me they hate poetry, I recite “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke or “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.
Not one person who’s heard “Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?” hates poetry again because really good poems smack you right between the eyes.
Poetry provides comfort and solace
The expression of feelings and ideas can be overwhelming for many of us, especially in a world of social media, constant saturation of creative content, and 24/7 access to visually stimulating chaos.
However, poetry…. ah poetry. It is my comfort and solace, the expression of words and ideas that requires no reciprocity.
When the writing bug hit me in 6th grade, one poet stood out to me for her simplistic yet sensitive way of igniting my emotions: Emily Dickinson. Her lyrical and dancing poetry captivated my young heart and mind, and I soon thereafter began expressing myself on paper in a similar fashion.
I recall years ago, before computers were even in existence, sitting at my bedroom desk after dinner, using a specifically sharpened pencil upon a crisp white sheet of paper to express what I was feeling by transforming ideas into flowing, rhythmic phrases.
My nightly routine became a quest for the perfect rhyme or stanza.
For many young adolescents, personal expression is so difficult. Yet as a young girl, poetry gave me an outlet that influences me to this day to express how I am feeling or to gift a friend with a meaningfully written collection of thoughts to commemorate a special occasion.
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found words.”– Robert Frost
Having written lyrical poetry for so many years now, I often times wake in the middle of the night with a poem in my head and must immediately write it down. This is the beauty of the habit of poetry in my life and why it is important to me. My brain sometimes thinks in poetic rhyme, and I am better for it.
Poetry reminds us that words can bring forth emotion and thought that we sometimes repress. Poems allow for a play on words.
Each poem can mean something different to each individual because poems are for personal interpretation, and poetic words are not meant to be confined to one specific, definitive meaning.
A special and analytical interpretation of poetic words is unique, and, with lyrical poetry, the rhythm and rhyme allow for lightened clarity and simplicity.
Words can alter the course of moods, as can be experienced in love poems, war poems, poems of grief, poems about nature, and collections by the great poetic masters.
The rhythm of ideas set to page, especially those written by hand, carries the weight of personal expression from the author to the recipient.
For decades now, I have continued to weave words and ideas into lyrical poems. In 2020, I decided it was time to put some of my collection together and self-published Lucid Life: A Collection of Lyrical Poetry. This is a small collection of some of my poems that span my lifetime, from 6th grade to the current day.
The cover is a watercolor my son painted at the kitchen table when he was three years old. It is poetry in itself. He is now 29 years old, and I keep that watercolor on my fireplace mantel.
Poetry is important because it reminds us that words are beautiful. When we cannot express ourselves externally, poetry allows us to become lost in familiar ideas meant to ease our burdens and set our minds free.
Poetry is important because life is a chaotic, beautiful, and amazingly complex.
Poetry lets us breathe.
“Hope is the thing with feathers– Emily Dickinson
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
Alex M. Frankel
Poet, Playwright, and Writer | Host, Second Sunday Poetry Series
Poetry is essential and life-giving
Who says it’s important? And important to whom? Could it ever be as exciting as going to the movies or watching Real Housewives of Wherever? Actually, to a surprising number of people, poetry is important, and they are likely the ones both writing and reading it.
To them, poetry is essential and life-giving.
It is urgent for poets to say/sing/chant/recite/compose what is bottled up in them and, just as important, how they go about this: the neatest words in the best order.
For these strange folks, it doesn’t feel right to have to tell a long story and invent characters, and do research. No, they want to set down what they are feeling now—powerful feelings of now, this moment, the things that can’t wait.
A story or a novel would be too long. A poem is more immediate and offers immediate gratification. And a poem offers more freedom than a story.
For stories, everyone expects human characters and a “story arc.” No such thing is needed in a poem. You can write about a plant, molecule, or ocean wave. You can write about what you had for breakfast. Or a trip to a dentist for some painful teeth cleaning.
But there’s also the freedom to be completely non-autobiographical: You can take a New York Times article and put it through the blender of Google Translate and online “reverse words” tools and come up with a stunning work of art.
That’s creativity. That’s freedom. The soul needs it.
Take these lines by Rich Ives: “My shoes’ greatest dream is as small as a hazelnut. / There’s no one left who can fix it in his dreams, / so I crack it open. I plant it. A fickle litter of hope / arrives with new fevered shoes.”
This is the kind of stuff poets love to read and write.
For those who have the bug, the urge, the vice, the inspiration, or the spirit, of writing poetry, it is an essential tool for staying sane. If you don’t sleep and dream, you can’t live.
For poets, the writing of poetry is like dreaming: it’s essential for survival. And it offers pleasure, an excitement, an ecstatic rush that no other activity can give them.
Are there hundreds of millions of eager readers lining up to buy the poet’s works? No, but that’s not the point. The point is to keep the mind sane, busy, and alive.
CEO and Founder, Poetizer
The sole fact that poetry has been in existence for thousands of years is a testament to its importance. Its role has changed throughout the ages, but it has been prevalent in diverse cultures and managed to find relevance for our ancestors near and far.
While it might have seemed, not many years ago, that poetry was a thing of the past and of no interest for the younger generation, the opposite has proven to be the case.
We can observe a strong revival of interest in poetry in Gen Z, with some observers even calling it the latest social media trend.
Young poets are becoming celebrities, such as Atticus, Rupi Kaur, or Amanda Gorman, a 24-year-old who swayed the hearts of hundreds of millions across the globe as she recited her poem during Joe Biden’s inauguration.
If even Gen Z finds interest in poetry, what meaning does it provide for them, or in other words, why is poetry important today?
Poetry improves our mental health
Quite a significant amount of research and analysis has gone into studying the health benefits of poetry. One late study shows the benefits it has brought during the recent pandemic.
As founder and CEO of a social media platform dedicated solely to poetry with millions of poems written by users across the globe, I witness on a daily basis a high number of poems on the benefits of poetry, especially its positive impact on mental health and how a poetry community helped them endure difficult life situations.
Users have commented that poetry as an outlet and specifically a dedicated community is “like going to a therapist where the therapist is words.”
It is a unique aesthetic feeling to see how people express themselves through poetry, which can be very interesting and intense.
Poetry provides a safe space for expression that many find comforting and soothing.
As it places no boundaries on the choice of words, it allows us to analyze processes in our subconsciousness and perhaps even shed some light on our unconscious mental processes.
As we find words to name that which we could not name without the use of poetry, we gain more control of our inner mental thought processes. It helps us to realize that we fear most that which cannot be named or defined.
In this sense, poetry provides us with a very valuable outlet and reflection on ourselves without shame.
Set your wild thinking free and fight for the right
Poetry encourages creativity, artistic expression, and intellectual connection. It allows us to discover everything from a new perspective and meaning.
And perhaps even more importantly, poetry opens the door for total honesty and truthful expression — something which is very liberating, especially in today’s world so full of pretense.
For Gen Z, a generation that strives for authenticity, poetry is the ideal form of expression.
Poetry is liberating
In the mind of Claude Lévi-Strauss, a French anthropologist and ethnologist, who coined the term “wild thinking” and contrasted it to domesticated thinking.
In his perspective, wild thinking (still prevalent in poetic expression) was the mode of interpreting the reality of our ancient ancestors as it sought to interpret reality in a spontaneous and associative manner.
As our forefathers started to farm with the First Agricultural Revolution and started forming civilizations, he presumes, our thinking has become more and more domesticated, trapped within strictly rational boundaries of association.
Poetry is thus a surviving form of expression that enables us to touch our wild side and truly create unhindered.
Poetry has also become a means of voicing societal concerns as it gives voice to the voiceless that call for justice and equality. Many poems express the fight for minorities and point to prejudices and injustice.
One does not have to write a lengthy novel; all that it takes is a few lines to make an impact or have your voice heard.
When similarities prevail over differences
Poetry allows us to see what unites us as humans struggling to make sense of the world around us. It cuts across our social bubbles.
In poetry, we realize that we are not alone in our joys and sorrows and that we are all part of something greater that connects us and transcends us all.
I believe poetry can be a very strong force for good in today’s world, giving voice to those who want to be heard. It has the power to unite people across the globe based on our common experience of being alive, irrespective of superficial differences, which tend to matter more than they perhaps should.
Writing Coach and Poet | Co-Founder, Beyond the Box Learning
Poems allow you to embrace the unknown
In the last few years, poetry has become an essential part of my life, almost like breathing. The act of writing a poem allows a deep dive in just a few brief moments. I’m suddenly free from rules and from the logical part of my brain.
The focus is on the here and now, pen and paper in hand, with permission to sit with joy, wonder, fear, or worry.
Writing poems allows me to embrace the unknown, to explore and experiment with language, memory, and ideas.
During the pandemic, reading and writing poems saved me. It gave me sanity, comfort, and a way to process the rollercoaster of terrible news, tragedy, politics, and social upheaval.
I began to take daily walks in my neighborhood and discovered that poems were emerging from my encounters with the birds, the green of nature, the seasonal changes, and happy dogs and their human owners.
When I teach poetry workshops (via Zoom or in person) with our students, we play with words, emotions, and personal experiences. I’m always inspired by the freedom and honesty in their poems.
Their voices shine through these short pieces, sometimes in rhyme, sometimes in free verse.
Our students ask tough questions about life and society. They share the beauty and the messy parts, the light and the dark, all while tapping into their deeper, true selves.
before it flees
release a flood
open a dam
the boil of anger
the grief of a tide
or the joy that
the wonder of witness:
the sheen of green
in a double helix
lilies of the Nile,
flutes of nectar
all for the taking
the tall, brisk stride
or trot-trot of perky terrier,
eager to be,
out of doors
the act of receiving poems,
for the words
is an act of wonder
tomorrow, a century,
a decade later
the common thread
of human experience
A poem tells us:
we are not alone
we are alive,
this is why
to the deep
poetry is howShu-Hsien Ho
to each other
how we sing
how we sing
to the hope of future
Poetry does what no other art form can
The poetic verse concentrates on the mystery and majesty of the human experience. A poem allows a person to share their deepest thoughts and most moving experiences across space and time.
Well-written poems have a rhythm that mirrors a heartbeat and pulls the reader or listener along into new thoughts and new worlds. Just a few lines of poetry can convey a lifetime of sorrow or boundless joy.
A poet can convey with just a few words what might take most of us hours to explain.
Poetry encourages mental discipline
Whether it’s getting the right number of syllables for a Haiku or rhyming words without losing meaning, writing poetry makes you think.
Even free-form poems still require the poet to meld clarity of meaning with beauty. Writing poetry can be work.
Reading poems as well requires an engaged brain. Everything from a silly limerick to an epic poem asks the reader to pay attention—to see in the spaces between the carefully chosen words all the meaning that’s there.
Poetry is an equal-opportunity art form
Sure, there have been many well-educated and polished academic poets. There have also been numerous natural poets, from Rap musicians to winners of community poetry contests.
Anyone can, and I would argue, should try their hand at poetry writing.
Imagine a romantic verse from your partner taped to the bathroom mirror or an innocent childish rhyme tucked inside a Mother’s Day card. These are gifts with value beyond compare.
Whether or not you are ever published, nothing compares to creating a carefully-crafted bit of word art for love done or for yourself.
Poetry can be a refuge
When the world stopped because of Covid, I intended to do many big projects with all of my forced downtimes. What I discovered was that chronic stress and being bombarded with bad news made concentration hard.
Writing poetry provided me with focus and with solace, and I was not alone.
Multiple news sources have reported on a surge in public interest in poetry. Literary agents reported increased submissions of creative works.
It’s clear that poetry provides a mental and emotional outlet that nothing else does. When your relationships, your daily life, or your world seems to be falling apart, poetry provides a safe harbor for a time.
Language is at the core of what makes us civilized. Language fashioned into art is what makes us enlightened and moves us toward our collective potential.
Author and Editor
Obviously, I like poetry. Let’s just get that out of the way.
But for 30 years, I had to convince hesitant college students poetry was not some obscure riddle meant to confuse them, and the beauty of poetry doesn’t necessarily mean you are reading poems about flowers or romance.
Poetry is demanding
First of all, poetry is important in the same way the best visual artwork or most wonderful symphony is important. Poetry, in my opinion, is the most difficult and highest form of language arts.
Just as we respond emotionally to Van Gogh‘s technique or to the drama and complexity of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, poetry takes language, image, and meaning to its most artistic level.
Realistically speaking, though, more of us probably listen to Led Zeppelin, Lizzo, or Kendrick Lamar than to Beethoven these days. So, can poetry still be important to us?
Yes, absolutely. The long answer would take half a semester, so, to keep it short, contemporary poetry especially can help us with two things: learning the music of language and learning associative thinking.
So, half a semester in a few sentences — if you listen to a person speak a language you don’t know — French, for example, or German — you can easily hear the sound and rhythm of that language.
Soft, rolling, romantic, or harsh and staccato. English has a sound to it, too. We just can’t quite step outside ourselves to hear it.
Some of our words sound harsh and not because of the context of how they are stated—“Brackish,” for instance.
Poetry moves us
Now move to associative thinking. Basically, this is the ability to make connections that did not previously exist. We know literally what “brackish” means, but the sound of the word also repels us.
We associate both the literal and the sound with harsh surroundings. Maybe we think of a dank, murky smell or a thick, impenetrable feel. Maybe that smell and feel remind you of how your grandfather’s house always smelled and felt.
- That’s making a connection that did not exist before.
- That’s image and metaphor.
- That’s the sound of a word.
- That’s associative thinking skills.
- That’s an emotional or visceral response. That’s the so-called “riddle” of poetry.
Rather than thinking literally, we are free-associating to something else. And associative thinking skills are another way of using the brain, one that makes us more creative in coming up with ideas.
It’s not as hard as we make it. Plus, poetry can be disturbing or moving for us. While it elicits an emotional response, it is also teaching us about words themselves and pushes our minds into a creative way of thinking.
The bonus? Rappers like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar use not just rhyme but also the sound of words all the time. They use free association. And you just might end up turning from Beethoven to them.
Online ESL Teacher | Owner, English With Brian
Poetry is a window into history and culture
When teaching about a certain historical period or artistic movement, poetry provides students with a snapshot into the minds and hearts of the people living in that era.
I’ve recently been teaching my ESL students a lesson about the history of Romanticism.
The lesson begins with the usual readings and video clips to set the historical context and provide some examples to illustrate the values and ideals of the movement.
Most students are able to grasp that it was a response to industrialization or draw the connection between Goethe and our modern notions of love, but they struggle to see why it matters.
They can comprehend the facts and order of events but can’t connect to the essence of that moment in time.
This is where William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” comes in to save the day.
These four simple stanzas about the poet’s ongoing awe and delight he takes in gazing at daffodils serve as a perfect window into the exact melancholic longing for the natural world that was central to the work of many Romantics.
Students are much better able to understand these complex feelings as they reflect upon where they find “daffodils” in their own lives.
Poetry has a way of making what appears to be abstract and distant, finite and personal.
Poetry introduces figurative language into the ESL classroom
ESL classes are a bit different from your typical general English or literature courses in that in our effort to get English learners ready to communicate effectively as quickly and efficiently as possible, and we often ignore poetry altogether.
Between teaching English for academic purposes, business English courses, and exam preparation programs, poetry often is left by the wayside in favor of what both students and teachers deem to be more practical.
However, poetry can be used to introduce students to the utility of figurative language. We know that poems are chock-full of everything from similes and metaphors to allusions and alliterations.
Students will often scoff at the idea of spending their time with long-dead poets who’ll seemingly have no bearing on their academic or professional goals.
But have you ever heard someone try to explain a complex concept like blockchain technology or a coding language without the use of figurative language? Probably not.
As teachers, we need to make clear that the creative writing elements found in poetry can be translated to the language we encounter in everyday life, whether that is preparing a presentation, writing a report, or simply explaining something to a colleague.
When students study poetry and discover how complex feelings and emotions can be succinctly illustrated through metaphors or analogies, we can encourage them to use these strategies to elevate their own writing.
Through poetry, students learn that effective writing can also be creative writing.
Primary Teacher and Book Blogger | Founder, Epic Book Society
Children retain information through poetry
A famous child psychologist named Lev Vygotsky once theorized that children start to develop long-term memory from the age of seven, though it differs from boys to girls.
Of course, it’s only a theory, but assuming Vygotsky’s theory is correct, how then do children learn? If a child hasn’t developed memory, how do they retain information? The answer may be in poetry.
As a primary educator, I have seen my students learn in multiple ways. Some learn visually, some require movement, and some learn through role play or copying others.
But one method I found nearly always worked was learning through rhyme.
Nursery rhymes are one example of how children learn through poetry. They’re not just fun and engaging songs; they’re also educational.
Think of “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” as an example of teaching about body parts and the “ABC” song as a way to teach children introductory phonics by learning letter names.
In fact, some teachers teach through poetry without realizing it, such as when managing classroom behavior through call and response.
Examples of this are “1, 2, 3, all eyes on me… 1, 2, all eyes on you” and “ready set…you bet!”
You could argue that children remember these rhyming phrases because it’s delivered in a more fun and engaging way, or it could be more scientific than that.
In a study by the Department of Psychology at Santa Clara University, researchers discovered that children learn new words better when presented to them through rhyme.
This is because the rhyming words they wanted children to retain came at the end of the sentence. So, it’s not necessarily the rhyme that makes information stick, but the word placement.
When you think back to the call and responses that teachers use, the rhyming phrases they use are always actionable, with the important words at the end (me — AKA the teacher, and set to indicate you’re ready to work).
This helps children to understand and remember what they need to do when they hear those words.
In my opinion, there can be no denying that rhyme helps information stick in the minds of children. I’ve seen it used to modify behavior, teach complex grammar topics and help children read.
If Vygotsky’s theory is correct, it’s pretty remarkable what poetry can do for children.
Sarah Marikos, MPH
Epidemiologist | Executive Director, ACE Resource Network
It’s a powerful tool for those with mental and physical health conditions
Studies have shown that art can contribute to our overall well-being, including all forms of:
- journaling, and
Poetry is a powerful tool that can help prevent, treat, and manage a range of mental and physical health conditions throughout life, including those resulting from the harmful impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress.
Writing poetry helps us explore our own experiences, while listening to poetry helps us find a connection in other people’s words.
Poetry also has a way of resonating with our own thoughts and feelings that we might otherwise have difficulty expressing or even identifying within ourselves. And when we create our own poetry, it can also be therapeutic, like taking a deep breath that allows us to reflect on our own personal story and journey.
Whether reading a favorite poem or engaging in the creative writing process, poetry as an expressive arts practice can help us cope and regulate our emotions while reducing isolation, thereby playing an integral healing role in the human experience.
As we continue to look for ways to help those most impacted by childhood trauma — nationally and in cities like Sacramento, where we are working at a community level to identify best practices and need gaps— we will continue to encourage creative expression through poetry and the arts as an effective tool for healing.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Neuroscience Coach
It helps to connect and express our thoughts and feelings
It’s often said that words have power and that saying is very true when it comes to poetry. Whether you are writing, reciting, or silently reading a collection of words, poetry has a lot of significance.
As a social worker and coach, I interact with a lot of clients who share with me that their brain has blocked certain traumatic memories.
In working with these clients, I have learned that creative, artistic, and right-brain activities are effective at helping us to connect with and express our thoughts and feelings.
Clients have shared with me that being able to feel again has helped them to deal with the past that has been dealing with them. That is really the formula that I use feel+deal=heal. Poetry is a mindfulness tool that can help clients to execute the formula.
Here is a breakdown of the work of poetry that I share with my clients. I hope it will encourage you to open this gift in your own life.
- Opens us up to
- Expressing our feelings and emotions
- Talking about taboo topics that are often
- Ridiculed by society
- Yet, once expressed makes us feel seen and heard
Senior Editor, Tandem
Poetry is one way that writers express themselves
Do you know of Maya Angelou? How about Robert Frost? Or maybe you have heard of Walt Whitman? There is a reason these names ring a bell. They are famous poets, and you probably have heard some of their poetry at some point in your life.
“I rise, I rise, I rise,” is from Angelou’s Still I Rise. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” starts Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. And lest we forget, “O Captain! My Captain!” a quote from and poem of the same name by Walt Whitman. This one even made it into the movie Dead Poets Society.
What do all these poems have in common? They are a part of us. They are the words that form us. They are the notions that sway us.
But why do poems do this, and why is poetry important?
Poetry is one way that writers express themselves, emoting feelings in words. Poetry can be concise or long. It can be intense or intriguing. However you feel about poetry, it’s understood that poetry is one form of art.
It helps people to see what they might not otherwise see. It lends an understanding where something was hard to grasp. Poetry gives a perspective that one may not have thought of.
There are many reasons that poetry is important. It helps children (and adults) to develop their writing skills as it assists people to improve on their thoughts and ideas. It also helps us to remember.
Poetry can also be cathartic to both the writer and the readers. Seeing in words what you had a hard time explaining can almost be therapeutic.
A poet I never thought I’d be, but upon this writing, I know you’ll see — there is, after all, a poet in me.
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