Psychologists and poets

By Alan Bodnar Ph.D.
March 29th, 2024

Apri is National Poetry Month, and psychologists everywhere are writing poetry.
With Wordsworth they are recollecting intense emotion in tranquility
and helping their patients do the same.
Analysts are reading Rilke who reminds them to live the questions
when they don’t know the answers,
and they are passing this wisdom on to us all.

Even the behaviorists are getting into the act,
reinforcing iambic pentameter with a smile and a nod
on a continuous schedule.
Soon we will all be talking like Hamlet but brooding less
if the positive psychologists have their way.

Frost tells us that a poem begins as a lump in the throat.
He calls it a homesickness or a lovesickness.
The lump, he says, finds the thought, and the thought finds the words.
But psychologists knew that all along and called it insight,
that hard-won understanding of our motives and beliefs.
The ones just below the surface need only a tender hand
to brush away obscuring sand,
but the ones buried deep beneath the rubble of troubled times,
require digging, what psychologists do with gentle queries,
and poets do with pleasing rhymes.

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney knew how to dig,
not for turf like his grandfather, not with a spade,
but with a pen to probe his rural roots
for timeless truths that cast his country’s present strife
in the common language of human life.
In that crucible of forces mixed, poet and psychologist
keep attention fixed on what’s inside and all around.
We’re made of figure and also ground.



April is National Poetry Month and though enlightened, we’re still not done.
Psychologists doing DBT show the way for you and me
to modulate just what we feel, to keep our heads, like Kipling said,
when all about us are losing theirs,
to live the moment, share the ride, tolerate the pain inside
and make peace with our cares.

So, if we’ve paid attention, we’re in the know.
If we’ve done our homework, we’re good to go.
Self-possessed and in control. “Now what?” we ask.
“What is our goal?”

Freud would say to love and work,
those hallmarks of a healthy mind
praised by poets from ages past.
Elegies of love from Roman bards,
Shakespeare’s sonnets, and Browning’s verse
remind us all how hard love works
to show what’s best in our heart’s desire,
and in its spell, disguise the worst.

Walt Whitman hears our country singing,
mechanic, carpenter, mason, and all the rest.
Day and night, their anthems ringing,
their own songs, the ones that each knows best.
Marge Piercy loves those who want to be of use,
like a Greek amphora made for oil,
the human soul, she says, is made for toil.

April is National Poetry Month and psychologists everywhere are writing poetry.
And in National Poetry Month, poets everywhere are doing psychology,
just as they have always done,
even before there were psychologists to tell them so.

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