top of page

Grieving in Verse: 3 Ways Poetry Guides Peaceful Exits

The latest episode of the Peaceful Exit podcast features my fascinating conversation with editor-in-chief of the Copper Canyon Press, Michael Wiegers. Wiegers offers deep insights into poetry and how it helps us grapple with death, dying, and grief. 


These were my three key takeaways from Wiegers' perspective on using poetry to translate human experiences that seem inexpressible. From the collaborative editing process to poetry's power to immortalize those we've lost, these themes in the podcast speak to the heart of how verses can provide solace amid loss. 


1. Poetry helps us express the inexpressible around death and grief 

Wiegers emphasizes how poetry gives us a language to convey intense emotions that are otherwise incommunicable. As the editor says, "I think that for somebody like Merwin, he practiced that over many years so that he could come to a simple language that would convey so much in a minimal amount of words." Poetry captures the unspeakable pain and profundity around death through imagery, metaphor, rhythm. It offers some solace and insight amid the mystery. 


Some of the most poignant poems shared in this episode grapple with loss and mortality. In "Rain Light" by W.S. Merwin, the lines reassure us: "When you are alone you will be alright / Whether or not you know / You will know." Marvin Bell's extensive series, "The Book of the Dead Man," imagines living through the eyes of someone who has died. These works show how poetry helps us relate to and make sense of death. 


2. Editing poetry is an act of listening and discovering meaning with others 

Wiegers describes how editing and publishing poetry is a collaborative effort, not just showcasing the poet, but engaging the imaginations of many others – designers, readers, critics. He says, "I wanted to look beyond myself as an editor and realize that my work is made possible by the imaginations and the work of many others." 


When putting together the anthology "A House Called Tomorrow," Wiegers asked the Copper Canyon community to share their favorite poems. He says, "Through the imaginations of others, of readers. And I think that's one of the beauties of the publishing process. For me, it's not just about the poet, it's about the poet and the reader." This give and take allows for discovering and uncovering meaning. 


3. Poetry offers a form of immortality for those we lose 

Wiegers shares how he grieves when one of the poets he's edited passes away – that it's difficult both emotionally and professionally. He says, "When I was reading the Marvin Bell poem, there's the line about the hole in your gut or what have you. And he died of something similar to that. So it's hard for me to not read those lines that he's written years before his own death. And to find him in there." 

But the editor also emphasizes that art and poetry provide a vehicle for lost loved ones to live on. Citing the documentary "Forever," Wiegers shares how through art, "we understand that one of the keys to immortality is through art. That's how we can live on. That's how those we love live on, is through the art." The poems give us access to the writers' voices and spirits even after they have passed. 


Poetry has a profound capacity to capture emotions around mortality that evade everyday language. Through an imaginative alchemy of images and rhythms, the unspeakable becomes scripted into poems that resonate across souls. 


As you explore writings by the poets mentioned in this episode, keep these takeaways in mind about poetry's role in grieving and peacefully exiting life. Let the verses wash over you and unlock realms of insight and comfort. And if you have the chance, listen to the full podcast interview with Wiegers to dive deeper into peaceful exits illuminated by poetic voices.


bottom of page