Different things inspire different people. For Santa Barbara psychologist and author Diana Raab, the inspiration has been poetry. And since April is National Poetry Month, it seems fitting that she explains how it has helped her through much of her life.
National Poetry Month which makes me reflect on the effect poetry has had on my life as a baby boomer.
My introduction to poetry in grade school did not leave a lasting impression. Memorizing verses from Chaucer and Shakespeare — which I scarcely understood — brought me very little gratification. However, things changed in the late ’60s as I was trying to navigate my teenage angst AND I discovered the poems of Rod McKuen. His book, Listening to the Warm (1967) calmed my nerves with his focus on love, spirituality, and the natural world. He inspired me to write my own poems during that time of turbulence, with friends being drafted to Vietnam as I protested war on city streets.
I took a little hiatus from writing poetry until the 1980s when I found myself with three little kids and limited time to write. Poetry seemed like a quick fix because it was manageable to fit a few minutes into each day for creative expression.
Growing up, cancer was considered a taboo and rarely spoken about. When I found myself with a breast cancer diagnosis in 2001, keeping it a secret seemed more painful than anything. Once again, I turned to poetry to help me navigate my feelings. My father was a Holocaust survivor and taught me that from all bad comes good, and that when something sad or bad happens, you should think positively and grow from the experience.
Like many baby boomers, I returned to graduate school for my Master of Fine Arts in writing, and was introduced to poet Billy Collins, also a baby boomer, whose poetry was inspiring and accessible because he wrote about real-life experiences, like his poem “Forgetfulness.” It describes the condition of forgetting things. As a boomer, this poem resonated with me because I’d begun to feel the effects of a failing memory.
As one who rebelled against Chaucer and Shakespeare and preferred being on the edge, I realized that poetry was a creative way to tap into the voice of my soul. That’s why my poems are narrative poems or poetry that tell stories — often stories of my life growing up. Poetry helped me gain insights and it was a place where my imagination could roam free.
In my forthcoming book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, I write about what it was like growing up as a baby boomer and how writing poetry encourages a certain interconnectedness between us.
As young boomers, we seemed much more interconnected — walking home from school, playing in one another’s backyards, being a part of our parent’s dinner parties. We’ve lost some of that vibe. Wouldn’t it be great if baby boomers circled back to those times, and maybe even got together to do something creative, like write poetry. It would be a win-win situation.