There’s this idea that’s been passed around a few times that reading poetry in the morning is good for you, and that it is the best way to start your day. Let’s unpack that statement.
To begin with, let me start this off by saying I have nothing against poetry. I like poetry! So this isn’t a “poetry is stupid and anyone who likes it is stupid too” situation. You can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s okay.
But the claim that reading poetry in the morning is good for you—and is the best way to start your day—is a little specific. For starters, I have gone through a LOT of scientific articles looking for evidence for this statement. And I did not find a single one. I could not find a single peer-reviewed article saying that reading poetry in the morning was the best way to start your day. Outside of that, most of the articles about specifically reading a poem in the morning for your health were from sites and journals that weren’t too credible.
Actually, one of the news articles that contributed to the spread of this idea doesn’t actually say that reading poetry in the morning is good for you, just that more people should read poetry to help them understand language and to better form their ideas. Those of us in the humanities and social sciences have been saying this for a while.
This isn’t to say that reading poetry isn’t good for you; there’s plenty of scientific evidence to back that up. Seriously, do a quick search in Google Scholar or EBSCOhost and you will have no shortage of sources to back it up. We know that reading poetry has its health benefits, the same way music does. Poems, as in the rhythmic phrases, were probably one of the early ways we humans communicated and spread ideas, and those watermarks are still left in our brains. There are linguistic benefits as well: those who regularly read poems show an uptick in linguistic fluency, better memory, better critical thinking, and an increase in empathy.
In fact, there is a treatment for some types of mental illness called poetry therapy. It’s very similar to the concept of art therapy, which you may recognize as what you do when you pull out your trusty coloring book when you feel too anxious or overwhelmed. The principle is the same for poetry therapy. Therapists may encourage the participant to find poems that help them process whatever emotions they’re struggling with; to write their own poetry to work through whatever they’re dealing with; and perhaps to share those poems during a group therapy session.
This therapy has shown marked improvement among people with borderline personality disorder, suicidal ideation, identity issues, grief, depression, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and schizophrenia. It’s important to note, however, that poetry therapy isn’t a cure-all for everybody. Cure-alls usually end up curing nothing. Poetry therapy is used in addition to other treatment, like medication or various psychotherapy treatments.
The issue with the idea that it has to be read in the morning and being the best way to start the day is that it’s too specific. Reading poetry is good? Yeah, sure. We’ve more than proven that. It has to be in the morning? Time of day doesn’t usually apply when it comes to the benefits I listed earlier. It’s like working out: as long as it’s being done, you’re gonna see some improvement. And it’s the best way to start your day? Well, maybe. That’s one of those things that you can’t make blanket statements about; what works for one person may not work for another.
If reading a poem in the morning helps you, great! Keep doing that, I won’t be the one to tell you to stop doing things that make you happy and help you, especially not in today’s climate. But it’s foolish to expect that to work for everyone. People’s brains are weird. What works great on you may end up eliciting a “meh” response in someone else. What I can tell you is that you definitely should be reading more poetry period, at any time. I recommend some Mary Oliver or Sappho.
If you’re looking for a poetry fix for National Poetry Month, we’ve got you covered!