After its absence at Maine’s gubernatorial inauguration, I wondered about poetry. Is it relevant?

Experimenter, innovator, poet and doctor William Carlos Williams notes: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day, for lack of what is found there.”

Indeed, I wrote my way through an eating disorder, seeking spiritual counseling from a rabbi, who led me to the poetry of the Psalms. There I met the holy hunger under the binges. Psalmists and poets ask open questions, more spacious than “this brownie has how many calories?” Rather than prescribing diets, they ask, “What is true nourishment?”

Healing deepened when I read this from Rumi:

“This is how a human being can change: There’s a worm addicted to eating grape leaves. Suddenly he wakes up, call it grace, whatever, something wakes him, and he’s no longer a worm. He’s the entire vineyard, and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks, a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.”

And Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French mathematician, physicist, poet and religious philosopher, wrote, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” I wrote into that something, even when I felt no “grace,” no “whatever.” I turned to poetry to learn what waited to be known, focusing on the mysteries of growing into wisdom and joy.

Eventually I wrote a poetry book called “Feast on Your Life,” the title taken from the poem “Love After Love” by Derek Wolcott, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1992. Wolcott invites us to take a growing-wisdom-and-joy look at ourselves. He says, “You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”

I read that line daily for years. It still hangs on the mirror in my closet: “You will love again.” Poetry matters.

I wrote first about feeling addicted-worm-like and then about getting better. Wanting to publish my collection, I hired an editor. She told me poetic language is honest, real and sometimes tough-loving, and that the world sorely needs truth like this.

We made 100 copies of my poems. I asked, “This loving healed me, right?”

She said, “No. Poetry healed you. Your poems shifted something in you.”

Poetry can shift any of us.

John Fox, certified poetry therapist, founder of The Institute for Poetic Medicine and leader in the field of poetry therapy, wants us to “call upon poetry to provide insight into … specific problems. Poems speak to us when nothing else will.”

Poems speak when political promises can’t. Unlike heady rhetoric, poems speak from and to the heart. And when my dad died, people said, “He lived a long life. Be happy. Have you read this book about grief?” Yet after a death, most of us aren’t happy and can’t read books. But we can read poetry. I read “Lament,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Listen, children:

Your father is dead …

There’ll be in his pockets

Things he used to put there,

Keys and pennies …

Life must go on,

Though good men die;

Life must go on;

I forget just why.

My mother, six siblings and I would go on. Like Millay I had forgotten just why. But my mind held the pictures of this good man’s keys, the jingling pennies and a few grass-smelling golf tees in his khaki pockets, simple images when nothing else penetrated. Poetry helped heal again.

A marine zoologist and expert on organizational development, poet David Whyte says, “We could do worse than to read a good poem every day.”

And so I do. You could, too. How about that for a New Year’s resolution? To stop for a moment and read a poem.

Here, from “Mysteries, Yes,” by Mary Oliver, are this morning’s words:

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous

to be understood …

How people come, from delight or the

scars of damage,

to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads.

Susan Lebel Young is the author of “Lessons from a Golfer: A Daughter’s Story of Opening the Heart.” She can be reached at:

[email protected]