Saved by a Poem

Do you know any poems or rhymes by heart? Have you ever memorized a poem purely because you loved it so much?

Lately I’ve been inclined to review only books that have come out within the last year or so. But I just finished one published a few years ago that I was so impressed by, I had to tell you about it.

The book is Saved by a Poem: the Transformative Power of Words*, by Kim Rosen. The only problem I have with this book is that I don’t know where to begin listing all its good qualities.

I’ve read that the ancient Celts believed in the magical power of words. They believed that certain stories – relayed with the exact wording – could work magic. I’ve been told that some American Indian tribes hold or held similar beliefs. I guess I too believe, on some level, that words have tremendous power – if not to work magic per se – then at least to heal and soothe the soul. Kim Rosen likens the process to a sort of shamanism. In discussing the Stanley Kunitz poem “King of the River,” Rosen describes how it “points to a dissolving of ordinary consciousness … undoing ordinary reality and allowing another reality to peSaved by a Poemnetrate.”

In her very tender and sensitive way, Rosen explains the connection she has forged with poetry beginning in adolescence, how it has comforted her, consoled her, and gave her perspective. She shares her vulnerability with the reader, giving numerous examples from her own life and the lives of many others who have used poetry to heal, survive, and grow.

Rosen, who has learned over 100 poems by heart, asserts that one does not need an “innate proclivity for memory” to remember poems. She insists that “anyone can learn a poem by heart,” if the poem resonates within. “It happens through allowing yourself to be touched and changed by the creative relationship,” she says. “ … When the words on the page are connected with the wisdom of the soul, memory happens.”

Each word or line in a poem that you repeatedly stumble over, that you can’t seem to remember correctly, Rosen posits, is a clue to what needs healing inside you, a clue to what is holding you back. She includes practices – to do either with a partner or alone – for using poetry to learn about yourself.

At the end of each chapter is one of the poems that Rosen has found personally fulfilling, poems by such poets as E. E. Cummings, Walt Whitman, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Mary Oliver.

Finally, Rosen leaves us with one last treasure, tucked like a gem inside the inside back cover of the book: a spoken-word CD of some of her favorite poems, some of them read by the poets themselves.

Frankly, I don’t care if you buy this book new, used, on Kindle, or just check it out of your local library. Whatever you do, go out and find this book. Read it. Be transformed.


*Saved by a Poem, by Kim Rosen.
254 pages, paperback. Hay House, Inc., 2009.

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