More Poetry, Less Stress—5 Helpful Tips

12/04/2017 04:04 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2017
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To be online is to be stressed, more often than not. We open our browsers or our social media accounts, and the day begins: The depressing news cycle. The latest celebrity failure. The hype. The asks. The constancy.

How do you handle it?

To preserve my sanity and my creative center, I take a full day off—every single week. I don’t even open my computer, or any other device with Internet access. Sometimes I walk, or draw, or just sit and dream. Lately, I’ve taken to losing myself in poetry.

“More poetry, less stress,” is a little phrase that my workplace is attaching to this year’s Poetry at Work Day. But I’ve been wanting more than a phrase; I want the reality in my own life. After all, historically, poetry has saved more than a few hearts from despair, even in the worst of times; online stress isn’t exactly like living under a repressive regime, yet to our physiological selves it seems the same. Stress kills us slowly, if we let it rule.

How to Get More Poetry (and Less Stress)

Losing ourselves in poetry takes a small effort. But here’s how you can help the process along:

1. Make it a ritual. The power of ritual, in part, is that it takes away the guesswork. The ritual is something that’s been decided and implemented before, with all its accompanying elements. You know the time. You know the place. You can simply enter into the moment. Having a few dependable poetry books or journals at your side will determine the content. Rereading favorites eases things—like a song you return to, or a peaceful room.

2. Follow a thread. The intrigue of online life is that it offers us threads. The problem is that we quickly drop them, which results in a feeling of being frazzled or frayed. So, offline where things are more in our control, while I do love the breadth of a good poetry anthology, when I’m going for “less stress,” I tend towards a collection by a single poet—something that allows me to keep following a thread further and further into their language and sensibilities, their history and heart. Some of my favorites are The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, and Mahmoud Darwish’s The Butterfly’s Burden.

3. Share over tea (or coffee), with friends, by reading aloud. This past weekend, I put poetry at the center of my living room, by making a small pot of flavored black tea, bringing a little plate of light confections to the coffee table, and reading a bit of Akhmatova to my twenty-something girls. We simply let the words wash over us, no pressure to make them more than they were. Entirely refreshing.

4. Link it to an everyday cue. Do you take a work break each day? Consider turning the time into a poetry break. Again, having a dependable collection at your side will assure that your break starts with ease (and leads to peace).

5. Read poetry daily, so it becomes a habit rather than a foreign experience. Once you’ve got the habit down, you can more easily enter any poetry moment. Poems will welcome you, and you will welcome them—even the ones that, just a few months ago, might have seemed too challenging.

These are a few of my best tips, and they’re helping me to have more poetry and less stress. Got any good advice to add? I’d love to hear it.

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