As a California Poet in the Schools, Meredith Heller teaches poetry workshops “for kids of all ages in both public and private schools.” She says, “Writing poems helps people believe in themselves.”
It’s evident in all the examples shared by students in the book that they have learned to connect to themselves through the writing of poetry. And now the book makes it possible for many more to realize the many gifts of writing poetry. Each chapter of Write a Poem, Save Your Life is inspiring with Heller’s engaging writing, students’ poems, and invitations to write followed by prompts she calls “just write.”
Each chapter begins with an excerpt from well-known artists and poets like Muriel Rukeyser and Pablo Neruda. The first chapter describes various aspects of poetry, such as “writing voice,” which Heller describes as the capturing of one’s unique speaking style in their writing. “Your own way of saying things is the voice you want to write with,” Heller advises, echoing the words of poet William Stafford.
One of my favorite chapters is “Muse of the Ordinary,” in which Heller suggests writing poems as a letter, a horoscope, a dictionary entry, or a magic spell. The chapter includes examples of black-out poems (also called erasure poetry)—using a page from a magazine or a portion of a newspaper to circle words for a poem, blacking out the rest.
“Body Language” includes an invitation to write a love poem to a favorite body part as well as an invitation for students to think about their relationship with sex, sexuality, and gender identity. These are poems the students could opt to not share, although there are poems from two students aged 19 and 17.
“Message in a Bottle” invites students and readers to use their imaginations to write messages and fortunes. “Dream Catcher” is another chapter that encourages students to get in touch with their own inner wisdom. As Heller says, “I think all poets are shamans. We write our way through our darkness and disconnection with self and community, and we write our way back returning with something to share, a map, a remedy, a way of wisdom.”
Kate, an eight-year-old, says in her contribution How to be a Thinker: “Stargaze and make memory constellations / When it rains, visit the mildew in the morning / the unknown is your happy place / Puddles are for jumping . . .” Kate’s poem is in the final chapter, “Wildly Alive.” Here, Heller invites students and readers to write about what inspires the poet in them and to write about what “celebrates and honors who you are.” The chapter is all about being a poet as a way of life and being true to oneself, living a life of joy and purpose.
I agree with Heller when she says, “When you commune with your own being and touch your own truth, it saves you.” I hope people of all ages will find this book to encourage them to write their own truth and to find the powerful medicine in sharing those truths with others.