5 Poets For When You Can’t Find the Words or the Way Forward

“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”

W.H. Auden

It makes sense to me now why I instinctively turn to poetry when I struggle through difficult issues. There was the season when once solid religious beliefs no longer felt safe, or the summer when we couldn’t decide where to live, or the times when life, in general, felt too much for me to carry.

Initially, poetry was baffling and encoded. Why would I purposefully choose to have more confusion? Then, when I started to dabble in it, I would google the meaning of the poem and try to decipher the poet’s original intent.

What I found in my searches were varying perspectives and explanations. No fancy conclusions to tie it all up neatly.

But after years of dog-earing pages and copying down punchy lines in my journal I finally realized the whole point of poetry was to draw me away from the point.

We desperately want the lines of a poem to lead us to an ending, but most of the time they resemble an open field, a clear night sky, or the vastness of an ocean, inviting us to further exploration.

Much like staring at an elaborate piece of art, poetry offers us layers of color, nuance, depth, and texture. For a while, we may make a push to interpret its message, but in the end, we inevitably learn to let it be what it needs to be… for us.

Even poets themselves confess,

“I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.”

Can we learn to appreciate poetry for the way it ushers us across the threshold of precise outcomes and comforts us in the baffling, unsolvable puzzles of life?

It’s no wonder poetry creeps into my peripheral when I feel disillusioned and disoriented by reality.

When I can’t find the words or make sense of a season or specific situation, poetry hums, You don’t have to…

Poems champion us to move through mystery, lay aside prescriptive measures, and abandon our hope of extracting answers in the midst of complexity. They teach us to hold both contentment for what is and a wild imagination for what could be.

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Today, I want to share with you a short but potent list of 5 trusted poet-companions who sit beside me, give me language, and console me through the process and perplexities of being human. You won’t regret picking up any of their books.

1. Brianna Wiest

You are allowed to change.
You are allowed to be different than you were before.
You have not failed your younger self.
You have saved them.

from Ceremony

2. David Whyte

Just beyond
yourself.

It’s where
you need
to be.

Half a step
into
self-forgetting

and the rest
restored
by what
you’ll meet.

from the Bell & the Blackbird

3. Mary Oliver

it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.

from Invitation

4. Maggie Smith

Don’t wait for your life to magically come together–it’s your work to do.
Every day, every moment, you are making your life from scratch.
Today, take one step, however small, toward creating a life you can be proud of.

from Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change

5. Chelan Harkin

We can be such misers
of the heart
and so stingy with love
when we hold back
the abudance
the generosity
also stored within our
deep sorrows.
And what an empty practice
this old dedication
to being hidden
for on the other side
of all that’s protected
it is so clear
that we are made
of a surplus
of love

from Susceptible to Light

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*You can browse my Book Shop poetry list, where you can find all these titles and more of my favorites.

Do you read poetry?

Do you have any favorite poems you keep within arm’s reach?

Or are you still reluctant to pick up a poetry book?

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