Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words
by Kim Rosen


Hay House, 2009. ISBN 978-1-401-92146-0.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 02/17/2010

Poetry; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Creative Life

Kim Rosen is a poet. She connects with poetry by speaking poems aloud and learning them by heart. She asserts that learning poems by heart changes you biologically—with the poem's rhythm and breath. Rosen states "Dare to not understand, to lose your grip on making sense of the words. Let the images, like musical notes, pour over you."

Rosen's book merges "the power of the word with the language of the soul." She describes "soul" as the word "to stand for all that lives in us beyond the socialized, survival-oriented self. I ask it to include the many realms of the 'inner' world: the psychological self with its memories, wounds, imagining, and feeling; the oceanic movements of the emotions; the archetypal themes, forces, and elements of the collective unconscious that we share with all humanity; and the Self that is pure, formless, awake, eternal presence."

In Saved by a Poem, Rosen writes of "learning by heart" as "a partnership, not a conquest" as it is about "entering into a relationship with a poem." She approaches memory through what she calls "the Four Chambers of Memory," each chamber requiring a deeper commitment. You can look at a poem and say the lines while you're stopped in traffic, as you're falling asleep or before getting out of bed, or remember lines of it as you're taking a walk in nature. "The most important practice for rooting your poem in the Third Chamber is speaking it to other people," Rosen says.

Rosen describes the Fourth Chamber as when "the poem starts singing to you." At this point, you have been transformed by the poem and can share it with others. Rosen deals with forgetting too; she calls it "the gift of forgetting." There's a shyness, a vulnerability, a silence, an undefended exposure (if this happens in public), all of which become the gifts in those moments of communion and truth.

Each chapter offers Rosen's personal story and her relationship to poetry learned by heart and includes the medicine of poetry, choosing a poem, the anatomy of a poem, and the undressing your voice. In most cases the poems chosen by Rosen reflect the themes of the chapters. At the end of the book, Rosen shares several practices help to deepen a reader's poetry experiences. She also includes a list of her fifty favorite poems so you can get started learning poems by heart.

Rosen brings her training, many gifts and a unique approach to her soulful work. Saved by a Poem brings poetry into our everyday experience, offering another way to connect to one another. Perhaps the greatest gifts of developing a relationship with a poem are to hear your own voice, to connect to a poem, and, as Rosen expresses, "allowing the poem to carry you into yourself, evoking feelings, reflections, and new experiences of the world."

The book comes with a CD of poems that are recited by well-known spiritual teachers; among them are Cheryl Richardson, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Geneen Roth, Joan Borysenko and Andrew Harvey. They also share what the particular poem means to them. The music of Jami Sieber adds another layer to the poetry recited by Rosen and other poets including the late Stanley Kunitz.

Try reading a poem aloud. Share it with someone else. "As you speak the words aloud, you can change the world around you with poetry's medicine—dissolving lines of separation, fostering intimacy and truthfulness, and waking the heart."

Saved by a Poem is a book for writers, teachers, hospice volunteers and anyone wanting that reconnection to self.


Kim Rosen, MFA, is a spoken-word artist, a teacher of self-inquiry, and an award-winning poet. She has given poetry concerts, lectures, and workshops in venues from cathedrals to juvenile lockdown facilities. She has been on the faculty of Wisdom University, the Omega Institute and Kripalu. Visit her website.

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