Writing Poetry as an Aid to Grieving

I have found that reading poetry can be consoling and comforting, but writing poetry can reveal corners of my soul buried in my psyche but not yet articulated. 

Some of the following poems are loosely structured, stream-of-consciousness exercises. This approach often evokes strong emotions as I write.

In other poems, I grapple with poetic structure, setting myself puzzles to solve, completely distracting myself from the emotions of grieving. 

Both approaches have improved my ability to experience and express grief.

Man sitting on the sidewalk on a folding chair with a folding table. On the folding table is a typewriter. A hand written sign hanging from the table reads: Poet For Hire Pay What You Like.
Photo by leonardo-baldissara on Unsplash

While I was writing my first poem about grieving, I really did feel as if my head was shrinking.

When they tell me you are dead,

my skull will shrink, my eyes will burn.

I’ll try to moan but my throat will close.

I won’t believe that you are gone 

while I still live.

Writing poetry goes beyond the blunt and obvious sense of words. As I write, my pencil begins to take control. Words appear, expressing my sadness.

Completely free,

my writing.

No place to go

but down the page

‘til words reveal

a sadness felt

since first I knew

that you were gone.

I long for you

without avail.

Grief peaks, but 

sadness remains.

Tired of grief, I go through the motions 

of washing dishes and writing poems, 

A structured way of life – 

one dish, one word at a time until

another day has drifted past.

I sit

shunning tomorrow

forgetting yesterday 

doing nothing

unaware of breath  

unaware of time

unaware of now

shut down



But I do have a desire and a drive to be cheerful.

I’ve often thought 

of how you left,

leaving me 

to grieve.

I’m tired of sobs 

and groans and tears.

My spirit yearns 

for peace.

Let me learn 

to think again

once more of love

and life.

When past depresses and future frightens,

when news is bad and weather dreary,

morning coffee, fresh from pot,

makes my life both good and cheery.

And useful.

A worn sock, hole in heel, 

serves me well as I sleep.

My toes are warm.

A pencil stub, almost gone, 

serves me well as I write.

My words are strong.

An aging body, aging mind, 

serve me well as I live.

My days are full.

My poetry coach, Kate Gray, made this comment about writing poetry. 

Forms help me enormously when the emotions are too much to grapple with. There’s something freeing about having part of the brain consumed by the math of a form.

Here is an example of a poetic puzzle, the villanelle. The first and third lines are each repeated four times.

I think of this poem as a puzzle to solve

with words that flow a particular way.

A villanelle will test my resolve.

Hoping my attitude will evolve,

I start seeking rhymes right away. 

I think of this poem as a puzzle to solve.

The first lines all will rhyme with solve.

The middle lines will rhyme with way.

A villanelle will test my resolve. 

As my thoughts begin to evolve,

I find that words will have their way.

I think of this poem as a puzzle to solve.

The words in my head begin to revolve.

My body slowly begins to sway.

A villanelle will test my resolve.

All my senses I’ve had to involve.

This effort indeed held bad thoughts at bay.

I’ve thought of this poem as a puzzle to solve.

Indeed it did test my resolve.

If villanelles seem too much of a challenge, try the haiku structure, three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.

I don’t understand

why I choose five seven five.

Somehow it’s easy.

The rolling rhythm

reveals what’s percolating

in my head and heart,

edited, filtered, 

until the only words left

are essential words.

or limericks.

There once was a poet named Peter

His writing never got neater

And seek as he may

New thoughts stayed away

Of old thoughts he was a repeater

Creating poetry serves me well as I grieve. Now it’s your turn. Start off with a page or two of scribbling. Then words will begin to hang together. It is a thrill when that happens. Keep at it.  Write and revise until your poems are perfect.

I write until I can say 

with confidence

this poem is perfect!

The next day I think 

this line break is in the wrong place.

Aahh – now it is perfect!

The next day I think

I could leave this word out.

Aahh – now it is perfect!

The next day…

And the next…

And the next…