To thine own self– and poetry– be true.
When we think of poetry, many of us think of it as a decadent treat. A literary experience. We also think of it as an examination of the human condition. We fling ourselves onto the couch or bed or a chaise and fall into a book’s pages hoping to unravel some great mystery or find a voice that understands our longing.
And in a way, all of that gazing inward (and outward) is a chance toward self-care, meditation, and even magic. (You’ve heard me wax on about the connection between poetry and magic before).
To embrace all of this, we can create poetic rituals for ourselves — which ask us to use poetry as a heart-opening tool for self-growth, self-care, and reflection. Here are three rituals for you to start with.
If nothing else, they’ll prod you to explore your psyche, give you some downtime, and help you tap into your own creativity.
Excavating The Self
Late at night, when you’re alone, light a candle and open your favorite book of poetry. Read a few poems and settle on one to work closely with. Read it aloud. Let it swim and reverberate in your mind and in the air.
Why is it that you are drawn to the piece?
Is it that it speaks to something you’ve experienced?
Is it something from totally outside yourself?
Is it comforting? Is it uncomfortable?
Does it help you feel compassion for someone else?
What do I feel physically or emotionally when I read it?
What are the words that stand out to me the most?
Does it put your feelings into words you couldn’t express otherwise?
Be present with the poem. Let it inhabit you. Be still with its message. From here, journal about it — or perhaps write your own poem in response to it. Remember that this isn’t about simply ‘enjoying’ a poem; it’s about self-excavation—learning from the poem, and letting it move through you. Be conscious of the feelings it elicits in you.
Books speak to us, create worlds for us, and unlock questions — be they conscious or unconscious — that we may have. The bibliomancer uses bibliomancy, a form of divination using books, to answer those questions.
Bibliomancy has been traditionally done using sacred text, like the I Ching or perhaps a book of spells. You can use any book you’d like — especially a book of poetry! This is technically called rhapsodomancy, but bibliomancy covers it.
When we work with bibliomancy, we are working with the mysterious forces within the universe — as they move through the pages. Like tarot or astrology, bibliomancy asks us to lean into the mystery and examine what we’ve been told or given.
How to divine with the book: Choose a book (poetry books make for an interesting invitation experience, as they are already so cloaked in metaphor) close your eyes, ask a question to the text, and let yourself find a page, and then a passage to read. You can point, let the book fall open, or use any method that speaks to you. The goal is to isolate a passage without looking.
Investigate what a line could mean in the context of your life. What images does it bring to mind? How does it make you feel? What does it force you to think about that perhaps you had not before? Does it answer your question, perhaps metaphorically?
Some questions might be:
What should I be paying attention to today?
What is something I should know?
Is there a lesson I need to learn.
Know that what you end up reading may not be a perfect ‘answer’ or ‘response.’ However, in its obscure and mysterious way, it is asking you to think outside the box, to look at the world in a new way.
Automatic writing is a method of writing that asks us to enter a different sort of mental state in order to generate words or channel ideas. This is a state where, instead of generating or thinking, you’re simply acting as a conduit. You’re receptive to words and images from your subconscious, writing them as they come.
Automatic writing is sometimes confused for free writing (in which someone simply writes whatever comes to mind, engaged, chasing ideas), automatic writing happens in a trance state and has roots in magic. The goal isn’t to simply follow thoughts. Instead, don’t follow thoughts. Let them pour into you; be the conduit and write what falls through you.
You’ll want to meditate, breathe deeply, and get lost in a state of simply being. Begin to write anything that flows through you. Do this for as long as you’d like. At the end, construct a poem out of what ‘appeared’ on the page?
What themes jump out at you?
Are there ideas or images or phrases that feel foreign or perhaps new to you? What sort of repetitions do you see?
What could it mean within the context of your life today — or your memories?
Poetry doesn’t have to be inert. Poetry can prompt you, push you, and ritualize your life.
For more prompts, preorder The Magical Writing Grimoire by little infinite editor Lisa Marie Basile (April 2020).