Losing a loved one can make you feel searing grief and remind you of the fragility of life. When you’re feeling raw with emotion, it helps to express it through poetry.
For centuries, poets have been writing poems about loss – from William Shakespeare to contemporary poets. Writing a poem helps you to process your feelings and pay tribute to the one you lost.
“I’m not a poet.” Perhaps you were told by a teacher that a poem you wrote at school when you poured out your heart was full of clichés. You don’t have to feel intimidated.
The world is full of different types of poetry that uniquely express feelings of loss. No words can do justice to your grief but using poetry as a tool can be a coping mechanism when you’re in mourning.
1. Collect your thoughts
Write down whatever comes into your mind without filtering out any thoughts. Think about what you would like to say to your loved one. Gathering your thoughts in this way helps you to start processing your loss.
2. Withhold nothing
At this stage, you’re not trying to write a poem but to freely express what you’re feeling and thinking.
Be as honest as possible, even if some of your thoughts are those of anger and despair. Don’t be afraid of your emotions, good or bad. Your poem will be yours, and you don’t need validation from anyone else.
Read five poems of loss written by various famous poets who fearlessly express their conflicting emotions and see what they make you feel.
Sue Maartens, poet and writer for AssignmentGeek, says “reading the grief poems written by others helps me to connect with my own grief and gives me an understanding of how others have expressed their feelings in words.”
3. Select favorite words or phrases
When you read through what you have written, you will find that certain words or phrases stand out. Circle or highlight these words because they will form the foundation of your poem. You may find that you’re already starting to see a poem taking shape.
4. Identify your purpose
What is the purpose of your poem? Do you want to share a story or some specific characteristic of the person you’ve lost? Do you want to write the poem as a last goodbye?
You may want to focus on a conversation you had with the deceased. Writing a descriptive poem about your loss will help others to picture that person as you picture them. A reflective poem will be more about the state of your mind and how you’re feeling about your loss.
5. Find visual images
Take the words or phrases you circled and concentrate on each one. What images do you see in your head? Does it bring to mind any physical sensations?
Perhaps one of the phrases evokes an image of the way a lost one walked. Maybe you will see your mother’s hands holding a teacup. Try to write down a concrete image you associate with the words.
6. Choose the right length
What makes poetry different is the style of writing and how the words are arranged. A poem consists of rhythmically arranged sentences. They can be short or long. Some of the shortest poems are the most effective.
They manage to contain a weight of emotion in just a few lines, like a haiku. An elegy is a longer poem of mourning. Read Elegy, Father’s Day by Kevin Young for inspiration. An epitaph is a short poem that may appear on a gravestone as a tribute.
7. Decide on the right form
A lyric poem is rather like a song, describing a single feeling or mood. A sonnet consists of 14 lines and is written with a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g. Poems come in so many different forms. The point is that you are not limited in the way you choose to write your poem.
8. Identify your strongest image
What is the image that is most important to you? Identify your strongest image by thinking about which one comes to mind first. Starting with a strong image sets the tone for what’s to follow and makes people want to read further.
The poem Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye has as its central image the picture of a clenched fist. Read the poem to find out how a mother’s answer to her daughter when she asked her about death had such an impact on her.
9. Don’t be afraid to share
You may want to keep your poem to yourself as it can be an intensely private expression of grief but you may find it therapeutic to share it with others. Your words may even inspire others.
Emily Dickinson wrote many poems about grief and death. I Measure Every Grief I Meet is one where she compares her grief to that of others around her.
In thinking about different forms of grief, she finds a ‘piercing comfort’ that grief is shared by many and some experience it in the same way as her.
Whatever you decide to do with your poem, you will find that writing it helps you to work through what you’re feeling. Writing about pain and loss is not easy. A deep and honest exploration of your memories and emotions associated with your loss can help you to take the first tentative steps towards recovery and healing.