Poetry and Ritual: Interwoven Art Forms

“For just that moment of speaking, whatever you say is there, briefer even than the taste of gelato or the light on the frescoes at San Marco.” 

– Angie Estes, “Want” in Poets on the Psalms 

A most powerful insight that has developed for me over time is this: words, rituals, do in fact have power over humanity- power to heal and power to transform- perhaps only in the moment, perhaps over a lifetime.

I recently wrote about the power of ritual to harness our both intention and attention toward honoring the moments of our lives.  Because this topic of ritual has been on my mind, I used the inspiration to create a writing prompt for my writers group made of amazing women whom I know through either the Columbus Area Writing Project or the Pages program.

To introduce our writing, I shared my experience using flower arrangement as a ritual linking loss and death to life and rebirth as an example.  we also explored other examples of ritual poems, including Naomi Shihab Nye’s performance of “Truth Serum” (at point 2:10 in the video).

The following excerpt from Write a Ritual Poem by John Hewitt on the Writer’s Resource Center was used to introduce the idea of how rituals and poetry are woven together.   

“…  Rituals have patterns and progression, two key elements of poetry. Rituals involve steps that move you closer to completion of a goal. Those steps tend to echo the previous and future steps…  A Ritual Poem takes a ritual (real or imagined) and brings a sense of meaning and reflection to the ritual it describes. Here are some steps to follow (a ritual poem ritual)

1 Pick an element of life that has or deserves a ritual

2 Decide the result you would want the ritual to produce

3 Think of the actions you would take to achieve the result

4 Turn the actions into steps”

This is just one approach to writing about ritual.  I think it is an accessible model to use with groups of people with diverse cultural and personal experiences.  Here were some additional writing ideas given to the group: 

  1. Write a ritual poem
  2. Describe a ritual you have and its impact
  3. Describe a ritual you think you should have
  4. Imagine a ritual that someone else might have and tell the story

After introducing the concept of the writing and having a fairly lengthy discussion about what ritual means and how it is relevant to our lives as teachers and humans, we had about fifteen minutes of writing time before sharing our work aloud to one another.

The lovely and talented Chiquita Toure sent me the following piece from our writing time to share.  This is her morning ritual each day.


Here are a couple of the things I wrote for the activity:

1. Remember:

Pens with ends chewed to points

Eyes tilted upward and to the right

Reminders written on palms in blue ink

Words that said: believe, enough, you are

2. Feel:

Chest tightens

Heaves of something rising

Throat caught up with loss

Something peripheral, something present

3. Release:

Hole in my chest that prickles

Stings away

Like a slowly burning leaf

What will it leave?


Another was:

Paper lanterns

written with lives

float skyward

slowly smaller

second by second

Both poems were thematically related: the rituals of letting go.  The second poem was a ritual of release that I enacted with my favorite partner in crime, Melissa, using paper lanterns.  I will be posting pictures and reflections on that process later.

Some people in the group wrote about rituals left behind from loved ones, rituals of preparation for the day, or rituals connected to cultural heritage.

What rituals do you enact and why?  Can writing about these rituals and sharing them create healing and community?

Feel free to leave your thoughts as a comment in the post of send them to me via the “Contact” tab.

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