Poetry helps us connect

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Michelle Obama

by Michelle Obama, U.S. First Lady

When I was young, I was a passionate creative writer and sort of a poet. That's how I would release myself. Whenever I was struggling in school, or didn't want to go outside and deal with the nonsense of the neighborhood, I would write and write and write and write. I think it was my writing that sort of prepared me for so much of what I've had to do in my life as an adult.

Robert Frost once wrote, "A poem begins as a lump in the throat." In writing poetry, you all put words into that kind of emotion. You give voice to your hopes, your dreams, your worries and your fears. And when you do that, when you share yourself that way, and make yourself vulnerable like that, you're taking a risk. And that's brave.

And when you write poetry, you're not just expressing yourself. You're also connecting to people. And that's the key to everything we want to be and do as human beings - is our ability to connect to one another.

Think about how you feel when you read a poem that really speaks to you, one that perfectly expresses what you're thinking and feeling. When you read that, you feel understood, right? I know I do. You feel less alone. I know I do. You realize despite all our differences, there are so many human experiences and emotions that we share.

And poetry doesn't just show us how much we share. It also exposes us to wonderful new ideas and experiences. It helps us see the world in an entirely different way. As Rita Dove once wrote, "What writing does is to reveal. A good poem can awaken our senses and help us notice things that we've never noticed before. It can take us to places we've never gone - to a mountaintop or a battlefield or a city halfway around the world."

And I know that writing poetry is not easy. I know that sometimes you really got to work hard to make it happen. I know that it can be discouraging when you're struggling with writer's block and you can't find that word that is just right, or get that line exactly the way you want it to be.

So I want you all to keep at it. Keep taking those risks. Keep having the courage to share your work, which is so important. That was the best part of writing - it was reading it back to my mother, making them sit and listen to my work. And I also had to read it and perform it. So keep sharing, keep reading poetry, and learning from other poets.

And even if you don't grow up to be a professional poet, I promise that what you learn through reading and writing poetry will stay with you throughout your life.

Edited from remarks made May 11 in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Copyright: The St. Louis American, June 2011