Poetry for Times of Transition

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, I find myself looking forward to  lots of possibilities as I approach a new transition, a place of threshold in my life. Thresholds are both exciting and terrifying, and I know that one way I have always dealt with them is to fill up the new space before I even get there.

Years ago when I my ex-husband and I were building a new house, I was  excited to decorate the rooms. Before we  sold our old house, I was measuring the new windows, pondering paint colors for the rooms, and selecting fabric for the draperies.  Filled with exciting ideas for new window treatments, I selected patterns and sewed curtains, swags, and valences for every room in the house. After we moved, I had all of the boxes unpacked within three days.  I was ready for company. And I longed for the next project to fill the void inside.

The Unknown Door
The Unknown Door

Luckily, as the years have passed, I have learned to anticipate the shifts that occur. And I know that I need to leave an opening. But just like the anxiety I felt about decorating my house before I  moved in, I want to fill the spaces of my life before I  arrive.  And I know what’s coming up for me is fear of the unknown, fear of not having anything to do.

One way that I manage the looming open space in my life is to read poetry and to journal. I also have decades of experience to fall back on, so I know that new opportunities are always opening up for me.  I am rarely without something to do. Still, I have to marshall all of my resources to refrain from filling up my life before I arrive at the next phase.And one of my my trusted resources is poetry.

Here are two poems I have found useful in times of transition. I hope they speak to you as well.

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale
by Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008. Reprinted with permission.

Prospective Immigrants Enter Here
~Adrienne Rich

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
There is always the risk
Of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
And you must look back
And let them happen.

If you do not go through
It is possible
to live worthily.

To maintain your attitudes
To hold your position
To die bravely.

But much will blind you,
Much will evade you,
At what cost who knows?

The door itself
Makes no promises
It is only a door.

Holding On, Letting Go

I will be having a series of guest bloggers in the next few months who will be offering different takes on the idea of holding on and letting go. I chose this theme because I realize we are in an almost constant flow of holding on to things and people in our lives and then heeding the call to let go. Jobs. Children. Homes. Marriages. Dreams. Careers. Spouses. Health. I’m sure you can add to this list with some ideas of your own.

Several years ago when I started my expressive arts consulting business, The Possibility Project, I designed and offered a program for women in transition. Thinking that people with very specific issues would benefit from the program, I focused on the places familiar to most people: divorce, death of a spouse, empty nest, and changing careers. The group met for several weeks and we did a series of expressive arts activities using collage, journaling, and poetry to work through various issues and blocks the women were experiencing.

And the more I experience life, the more I see people constantly engaged in the challenges of holding on and letting go. During a dark time in my own life, I used to see myself as clinging to a branch that was hanging over a rushing river. My hands gripped the branch, my feet were floating out in front of me and it took all of my strength to hold on. When I finally let go, I floated in the sparkling cool river, buoyed along by the current. I relaxed and let go into the flow.

And now whenever I am faced with challenges that ask me to let go, I close my eyes and see myself clinging desperately to that branch and then relaxing in the water. I realize that so much of the stress comes from wanting to control the outcome instead of trusting the wisdom inside, the wisdom of life’s current. I need to keep this in mind as my son talks about moving to Thailand and buying a one-way ticket. Much as I want to hold him here, I also realize he needs to follow his own current.


Stafford’s poem “You Reading This, Be Ready” has some inspiring words for us to consider as we face transitions and are called to hold on or let go. I hope they provide some comfort as you face your won challenges.

“When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?”