>Continuing to Celebrate National Poetry Month: The Morse Code of the Heart


“Psychotherapy and lyrical poetry address many of the same issues,” says poet, essayist and naturalist, Diane Ackerman, “but, oh, what a difference art makes.”

I discovered Ackerman when someone linked to her on Twitter recently, and I wondered why I hadn’t heard of her before now. And then I found this article from the New York Times back in June of 2002:

“Writers on Writing; The Morse Code of the Heart: Poems Foster Self-Discovery”

I’m intrigued by Ackerman’s book, Origami Bridges: Poems of Psychoanalysis and Fire, about which she says:

“This wasn’t a planned book, but one that geysered up naturally over a year and a half, during which I wrote poems daily. I began writing them to corral the unruly emotions that arose during intense psychotherapy, a process I explain a little in this excerpt from ‘Omens of Winter’

Poems arrive as meteorites.
Collecting them, I try my best to impart
impulses, the Morse code of the heart,
but I do not understand the vernacular
of fear that jostles me until art occurs,
or why knowing you from afar
spurs hours of working myself into the stars.
Well, I do know, but I fight its common sense:
I try to stabilize us through eloquence.
It’s an old story, better told than I tell,
how artists shape what hurts like hell
(usually love) into separate empires
of lust, tenderness, and lesser desires

She continues: “ . . . psychotherapy and lyrical poetry address many of the same issues, and they both create a space where one can explore one’s relationship with oneself and others. Both require rules, tremendous focus, entrancement and exaltation, the tension of spontaneity caged by restraint, the risk of failure and shame, the drumbeat of ritual, the willingness to be shaken to the core. So, though refreshingly different from each other, the two overlap in companionable places.”

Ackerman wrote a book of poetry while writing a prose book:

“While writing Origami Bridges, I was finishing a prose book, as well, Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden, and some of the poems’ moods and themes appear in it. The poems influenced the prose.”

I loved reading that, since I had been working on a book since November about how memorizing poetry was influencing my prose, but I stopped writing both of them in March. This inspires me to get back to work on both books, after my daughter’s wedding on May 7!

What are your thoughts on the relationship between therapy and art, whether it be visual art or poetry or prose? Leave a comment to start the discussion. Happy National Poetry Month!

(P. S. My friend, Corey Mesler, owner of Burke’s Books here in Memphis, has a new book of poetry coming out this week called Before the Great Troubling, in which he “explores interior landscapes as they relate to life and love, feelings and family, and the perpetual process of growing up.” His first shipment arrived at Burke’s today… just in time to give as Easter gifts.)

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