Book Review – Ten Poems to Change Your Life

Ten Poems to Change Your Life
By Roger Housden
2001 Harmony Books

I confess to having a rather on-again, off-again love affair with poetry. At certain times of my life I’ve found great solace and inspiration in writing and reading poetry. And there are those times when poetry is, frankly, the last thing on my mind.

When I happened across Roger Housden’s “Ten Poems to Change Your Life,” I was in the latter mode: not really “in the mood” for poetry, especially poetry I had read many times before. But I picked up the book anyway, casually thumbed through the pages, and happened upon this:

” The ropes that bind you are your beliefs and preconceptions about how life is. This is true for every level of your existence. You are more alive when you are given fully to whatever you are faced with than when you try to maintain a safe distance from it, protecting yourself from the bare reality with your thoughts and beliefs about the situation.”

Wonderful! But wait a minute! Isn’t this a book about poetry? Upon further investigation I discovered that Housden’s book is actually much more about personal development and nourishing the soul through the power of words than it is about literary criticism or analysis.

It would be something of a cliche to say that Housden’s gift is to make poetry “come alive” for the reader. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in reading his book I became a little more alive, and found myself connecting to the words of Rumi, Whitman, Neruda and others in a way I’d never experienced before. Housden brings to light aspects of poems I’ve read a dozen times before, but had never noticed.

Housden chose ten poems — some familiar, some eclectic — and explores each one in detail. But beyond the usual cultural and biographical background of poet and verse, Housden has framed his insights about each work squarely in the arena of self-exploration and growth. He reminds us of the ability of a few simple words on a page to ignite genuine inspiration and reflection. And most importantly, he brings the entire process of reading a poem into the realm of real mindfulness. Each stanza, phrase, and sometimes each word, can reveal a world of meaning. Nothing is taken for granted.

With each poem, Housden takes great care to illuminate an amazing range of thoughts, emotions, and realizations often hidden from a casual glance. But, we are warned, exploring poetry in this way is not simply a lighthearted literary jaunt:

” This is a dangerous book. Great poetry calls into question not less than everything. It dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind. It opens us to pain and joy and delight. It amazes, startles, pierces, and transforms us. It can lead to communion and grace.”

Many literary critics enjoy taking poems apart, piece by tedious piece, until nothing is left but scraps of words, incongruous and limp, drained of meaning. Housden somehow manages to avoid this pitfall, and rather than depleting the power of the words finds a way to expand their power by aiming them directly at the heart of the reader.

Housden recognizes the astounding ability of poetry to alter our mundane perceptions of ourselves and the world around us, and to transform awareness into a genuine transformational tool.

Can ten poems really change your life? When explored with the penetrating insights, open-heartedness, and honest enthusiasm of someone like Roger Housden? Absolutely.

If you are a lover of poetry, you’ll enjoy this book from page one on. If you detest dry literary criticism, if you don’t “get” poetry, if you think poems are stale and trite, if Whitman makes you wither and Rumi makes you run, Roger Housden may just change all that.

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