The Dharma of Poetry: How Poems Can Deepen Your Spiritual Practice and Open You to Joy (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

This is the book I needed when I first knew I wanted to engage with poetry but had no idea how to find a way in. It leads you through a small selection of excellent poems, illuminating them with a contemplative focus in a Buddhist context. The reader is gently encouraged just to slow down when reading a poem and, for instance, allow it to induce a way of being rooted in connectedness rather than separability, then to carry the insights from such a reading into our lives. The same leap from literature to life occurs when we pay attention to poems that sharpen our ability to pay attention, to poems that demonstrate extraordinary compassion, to poems that invite self-forgetfulness. Brehm shows how poetry is not just the conveyance of information but a guide to vaulting over the limits of thought; how, when read with the right “quality of awareness,” it can be experienced as a vehicle for transcendence rather than being mistaken for a collection of clever descriptions. He shows the way in to poetry is to notice what you enjoy about a poem rather than giving in to the temptation to analyze, “to live in the field of its imaginative energy for a time, to appreciate and experience it rather than think about it.” Short contemplative exercises are also included to complement the meditative readings of the poems. Although perfect as a standalone volume, the book is a great companion to Brehm’s earlier anthology, The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy.

— From Andy's Staff Favorites


Discover how to engage with poetry to support your spiritual practice, leading to more mindfulness, equanimity, and joy.

In The Dharma of Poetry, John Brehm shows how poems can open up new ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. Brehm demonstrates the practice of mindfully entering a poem, with an alertness, curiosity, and open-hearted responsiveness very much like the attention we cultivate in meditation. 

Complete with poetry-related meditations and writing prompts, this collection of lively, elegantly written essays can be read as a standalone book, or as a companion to the author’s acclaimed anthology, The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy.

About the Author

John Brehm is the author of three books of poetry, Sea of Faith, Help Is on the Way, and No Day at the Beach. His poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The Sun, The Gettysburg Review, The Writer’s Almanac, Plume, Best American Poetry, The Norton Introduction to Literature, and many others. He is the editor of The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy and the associate editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and teaches poetry and meditation classes in Portland and in Denver, Colorado. He can be found online at

Praise For…

“The Dharma of Poetry is a warm invitation to explore the beauty of our own lives, retrieving a sense of wonder and mystery as we navigate both the immediate and the timeless.  John Brehm has done a masterful job in reminding us of the power of our own poetic sensibilities.”
— Joseph Goldstein, author of The Experience of Insight, A Heart Full of Peace, and Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

“John Brehm is a wonderful teacher. In these lucid essays about poems and poets, and in the carefully crafted exercises that follow, he takes us on a contemplative stroll through the centuries and deeply into our own minds. Poetry and spiritual practice have always had a lot to do with one another; in The Dharma of Poetry we see exactly why—and how.”
— Norman Fischer, poet and Zen Buddhist priest, author of Questions/Places/Voices/Seasons

“A wonderfully encouraging book. There is a beautiful alchemy in the way Brehm turns poems into practice. He shows us the ways poems are by their nature moments of liberating attentiveness. And in his clear and welcoming voice, Brehm reveals how that liberation can infuse our everyday lives. How it can transform not just us, but also this world in ecological crisis.”
— David Hinton, author of China Root: Taoism, Ch'an, and Original Zen and Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape

“For a long time I’ve appreciated how poems embody the Dharma through telling the story of a simple lived experience, and feeling the teachings being offered with all one's senses rather than merely through some intellectual understanding. As I read The Dharma of Poetry,  each chapter taught me how to notice more subtleties and nuances in each poem’s Dharma teaching. I learned so much about harvesting more of the depth and breadth of poems from John Brehm’s sensitive understanding of poetry. I now have new ways to read and receive the refinements of Dharma wisdom in a poem, and am so grateful.”
— Kamala Masters, co-founder of the Vipassana Metta Foundation and guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Society

“A clear-eyed, warm, and generous guide, John Brehm reveals how we might encounter poetry as a source of sustaining wisdom. The essays collected here—and every single one is a gem—serve as a companion to his wildly popular The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy. But anyone interested in poetry or spiritual practice will find through this book a gateway to richness: Here are ten elegant teachings on how to live.”
— Heather Sellers, author of You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know
Product Details
ISBN: 9781614297208
ISBN-10: 1614297207
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Pages: 184
Language: English