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Poetry That Heals by Naomi Beth Wakan - a review

How can poetry heal? Naomi Beth Wakan shows us through a tour of the different forms of Japanese poetry and ultimately answers the question.

Each chapter pairs the poetic form with the way healing intersects with reading and writing. But first the author asks “Who has not at times of distress sighed, groaned, cried and let out an anguished “Why?””

Chapter headings read like a self help guide: Being Here Now, Reading Haiku, How to Write a Haiku, The Haiku Walk, Healing the Earth, Loosening with Laughter, Freeing the Artist, Letting it all out, The Journey.

But it’s not shallow advice, not a quick-fix-buy-this kind of magical thinking.

Writers throughout the ages took to writing stuff down as a powerful antidote to despair even in the most sad and tragic times. Even sadness expressed at a particular event can fight against depression.  Poems that witness minutes, seconds, days or years, without rushing toward a solution, are revealing an element about life which the ego matures and understands - we are not in control.

Having experienced that catatonic flood. That rock in the stomach that prevents a move forward, that inner system bunged up with too much information for the mind and heart to process, I have turned to something unrelated to gain balance, and it has often given me new insights.

Being Here Now (the first chapter) shuts the door to all the weather swirling around and points to a particular moment: the heron / looks at its image / shallow waters. Nature offers a  return to the universe. Ah yes, right.  Got it! Vanity is a lonely pursuit.

Reading Haiku and How to Write Haiku makes it clear this book is not a guide on how to become a post-modern Basho. “Haiku don’t tell you what to think or what insights they might offer.” writes Wakan. “Haiku present images for readers to consider and then experience the resonances within themselves that the strong images of the haiku produce.”

The Haiku Walk is about reconnecting with nature, the eyes, the ears and the mind, using our own feet. 

Healing the Earth when there is so much abuse of this planet and its beings, you will find no despairing comments … No “it’s so bad!” or “it’s so terrible! Nor will you find overt comments on the awesome wonder of it all. What you will find is just what someone has sensed intensely at one moment in time.”

This is easier to contemplate than lists of what we can do and what we can’t control, or endless arguments about politics … the promise of a better world and better leaders, and the inevitable hangover after the “drug” wears off.

Anything we cherish needs more care than clever speeches from politicians. It needs a level gaze. It needs to be nurtured.  The difference between sadness and despair is that sadness can evoke our care, whereas despair can lock the heart and mind in a vault.

The poet will share an opinion with humility through careful observation with her senses and her humanity.  “Yes, at such bitter and such sweet times poetry has its uses, I find.” writes Wakan.

This books taps into human nature - the apps that we are born with, that have served us throughout the centuries: the power of humour, freeing the artist, letting it all out, and the journey. 

This book is light in weight and size yet large in its capacity to bring us back to our humanity.

[published by Shanti Arts Publishing 2018
first published in 2014 by Pacific Rim Publishers]
In Canada you can order the book here 
In US here

BODY, MIND & SPIRIT / Healing / General
POETRY / Haiku

ISBN: 978-1-947067-28-8 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
ISBN: 978-1-947067-29-5 (digital)

LCCN: 2017964362
Released February 2018
104 pages


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