Why is Poetry more therapeutic than Prose for survivors of trauma ?

Bromberg( 1994)

Trauma is different from stress.
Trauma is any event that threatened the life or psychological/ physical integrity of an individual,exposure to killings of others ,sexual violence against the individual(rape/being stripped in public/in private by one or more persons) or his loved one , death of a loved one by murder or suicide, bullying,violation of boundaries in public(experiencing slander or circulation of personal material of the person among public i.e individuals with whom the person did not share a confiding relationship)and also being in disasters.

Man made disasters or personal trauma is more resistant to healing than impersonal or natural disasters , where violence does not carry a personal significance.
Events that can cause extreme stress if they occur in quick succession can also cumulatively have the same effect as trauma.

I would like to now elaborate what happens to the brain when an individual is traumatized , as early as 1907 Pierre Janet described “vehement emotions” interfere with integration of traumatic memories , because they are not adequately processed they become separate from ordinary consciousness.


/                                                                              \
DECLARATIVE                                                   NON DECLARATIVE
(Explicit)                                                                            (implicit)
(verbal)                                                                              (procedural)

Declarative memories are usually non traumatic memories , hence can easily become narratives or anecdotes. Declarative memory has both semantic or conceptual memories and autobiographical memories. Declarative memories are about what happened ?
Implicit or non declarative memories are procedures , how to ride a bike or how to swim , how to make pasta, how to wear a braid , how to kiss, how to make love.
Even teaching these skills requires action and not words.
This is why we say what we were taught to say and do what we saw our parents or teachers did ! If there is a discrepancy , it is embedded in two separate areas.
We learn about ourselves by reflecting on our actions.

Traumatic memories were filtered by the hippocampus a part of the brain that when in a state of arousal sends the signals to be stored in procedural or somatosensory areas , as emotional states, imagery, sensations and will not be integrated as verbal or declarative memory in to the cerebral cortex. We all have a problem verbalizing experiences that caused intense horror, helplessness, humiliation , hurt because they were not verbal memories at all , they are feelings of hot cheeks, red ears, choking throat, pricking eyes, rigid clenched fists, weak knees, beating heart , pounding head , butterflies in the stomach, wish to disappear deep inside a crater in the earth ….Now, is this not poetry ?

Traumatic memories are timeless, like poems …They bond us to archetypes, we see the similarities in epics , history , as personal transforms in to collective the traumatic effect reduces. Traumatic memories are processed piecemeal,heart takes time to accept what the mind already knows. And very often poetry and the images that you employ to convey an idea or experience can later help you to construct a narrative or prose. That would be finally integrating traumatic memories to the consciousness , without overwhelming one self……but overwhelming others! Perhaps the essence of art is to transfer what the artist feels to the audience or readers.

Cast away all speech
Our words may express it
but can not hold it
The way of the letters
leaves no trace
Yet teaching is revealed (Zen)

At age four my major milestone
was standing on my head
Weeks of practice were
spent achieving this feat
Shaky starts finally led to
standing unaided at will
When grandparents came for
their annual visit
I planned to be the star of the show
dazzling them with feats of my balance
Slowly I walked to the centre stage
and stood on my head
Grandfather bent down , and joined me
on his head
( Written by Malia grade 8th , excerpts from Teaching poetry writing to Adolescents. by Joseph I Tsujimoto
ERIC Clearing House On reading and communication skills )

Poetry also demands the first person more often , hence makes you acknowledge your own stand, however different it may be from the world. And it creates a dialogue with authority that refuses to communicate in words. It is a an effort to bridge the verbal left brain with the silent feeling right brain the two hemispheres of human brain that do not co ordinate when there is psychological trauma. Right brain often will see the forest , while left brain is counting the trees.

Poetry requires both to be alert….

Passing an upturned carriage
The driver suddenly awakened
Surrendering to sleep invites disaster

Perhaps after writing this poem , one can sleep , because one has learnt where to be hypervigilant , and where not to be. Poetry is a genre that is emotionally intelligent.

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