'A Mad Obsession': Poetry on the Brain

Poetry is just one of the many different ways we can keep our brains challenged and vibrant. While many activities can provide us with the "stretch" we need to stay sharp and ward off memory loss, engaging with poetic verse is one of my favorites.
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What is it about a poem? We seem to have fallen out of the habit of reading, studying, let alone writing poetry. Yet there can be nothing quite like a stanza of fine poetic prose to bring us back to a moment, move us to tears, or force us to think about something twice.

April is National Poetry Month, and a good time for us to reflect on why poetry is good for our minds (and for our souls, but that we'll have to leave for later). Poetry is just one of the many different, often unexpected ways we can keep our brains challenged and vibrant. Numerous studies have shown that intellectually engaging activities such as reading or writing poetry can be critical to maintaining our mental acuity and potentially reducing our risk for dementia over our lifetimes. While many activities can provide us with the "stretch" we need to stay sharp and ward off memory loss, engaging with poetic verse is one of my personal favorites.

Why is poetry good for our brains? First, poetry engages our minds. Often we read passively or simply to learn what we need to know. We cannot do this with a poem. By its very nature, a good poem asks us to delve a bit deeper to best discern its intention. Second, poetry gets our creative juices flowing. Whether we read or even choose to write verse, poetry forces us to think out of our own box or experience. Finally, since poems come in all sizes, we can all find a poem to engage with no matter how short we are on time, making it an intellectual exercise that fits all time budgets.

Dr. Milton Ehrlich is a clinical psychologist who has in recent years become a prolific poet. Now 80 year old, Dr. Ehrlich first began writing poems when he began to work part-time at age 70, leaving him with more time to pursue what had always been an interest he had limited opportunity to explore earlier. "I'm now passionate about trying to master the craft of writing poems" writes Dr. Ehrlich. "I am always working on a poem and seem to crank out a new poem almost every week. I think about it all the time. Some would call it a mad obsession." Ehrlich's body of work is quite varied, but reflects a comfort in exploring our inner psychic world, with all its contradictions and conflicts, yet bound by a wisdom and integrity reached through experience. "Writing a poem that works always stems from the unconscious. When the reader is moved, the poem succeeds." Dr. Ehrlich has published over 50 poems and three books of his poetry, including his latest collection, "Trying in Vain to Remember Who I Am." With his permission, I am happy to share with you one of his recent poems:


We keep each other warm
Bound together by the rich loam
Of collective memory

Libidinal heat still radiates
Touches that could melt a glacier
Glow red with warmth from a setting sun

With tender words and no apology
Refugees of aging examine
The geology of bodies gone awry

Old age is skating over thin ice
Marinated souls move
In slow synchrony

When remaining days are few
They climb over dusty books
And read to each other

Worn out bodies bend, break, and fall apart
These are the cracks
That let the light shine through

I hope that National Poetry Month, Dr. Ehrlich's work and his example of a "mad obsession" explored later in life will serve as an inspiration to all of us looking to use such creative outlets to keep our minds vibrant and keen.

To learn more about the poetry of Dr. Milton Ehrlich, visit his website at www.milton.ehrlich.com. You can also view his books of poetry by clicking here.

The Academy of America Poets has a wonderful program that will deliver to your email a "Poem a Day." Click here for more information and to register.

Vintage Lovers© Milton Ehrlich 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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