Writing on the heart…

by Judith F Kennedy, PhD

Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Like the air we breathe, poems are necessary for life. Find poems that speak to you and lift you. Allow them to enter you as a cleansing breath. Do not hope to get something from poetry but to be released. Released into the deep unknowing. Released into something deeper, some knowing that goes beyond words, beyond understanding and into the stillness of your soul.

Poetry and spiritual life overlap. It allows freedom from the egoic manipulation of life and into a direct experience of life.

We spend much of our life in acquisition and transaction. Yes we need to buy things and earn money. We need to pay the bills and feed the children and the dog. Poetry helps us get around all this necessary “getting and spending” (Wordsworth). Instead of a life of acquisitiveness, we are able to stand back and appreciate, be grateful. We can relate to life not for what it gives us but for its own sake.

The best poets and poetry help us have a direct experience with life. We use our senses, sight, sound, touch and taste. In Buddhism this means being mindful. Good poems are satisfying and uplifting. They are written on our hearts. Bad poems are fancy, cute, sentimental and don’t go anywhere. Discern the best for your heart and soul. Good poems will allow you to touch life directly.

Mary Oliver does this so well in all her poems.


You’re like a little wild thing

that was never sent to school.

Sit, I say, and you jump up.

Come, I say, and you go galloping down the sand

to the nearest dead fish

with which you perfume your sweet neck.

It is summer.

How many summers does a little dog have?

Run, run, Percy

This is our school.

Poetry helps us consciously drop beneath the chatter in our minds to the richness of life. Poetry takes us out of the darkness and into the realm of awakening

Jane Hirschfield talks about the life altering and awakening experiences we can have with poetry, if we allow ourselves to be permeable.

“Although the wind

blows terribly here,

the moonlight also leaks

between the roof planks

of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu

[translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani]

The moon in Japanese poetry is always the moon; often it is also the image of Buddhist awakening. This poem reminds that if a house is walled so tightly that it lets in no wind or rain, if a life is walled so tightly that it lets in no pain, grief, anger, or longing, it will also be closed to the entrance of what is most wanted.”

Allow the moon into your house.