poetry therapy

Changing the World with Poetry

The only thing that can save the world is the
reclaiming of the awareness of the world.
That is what poetry does.
--Allen Ginsberg

Years ago, in a dormitory room at Boston University during my freshman year, I remember listening to a record of Ram Dass called Love Serve Remember.

These records came from four days of programs aired on WBAI in New York City in the early 70s.  Ram Dass said:  “The only work we have to do is on ourselves. And that's a hard one.”

It was a year later, in another dorm room, when I faced the choice to hide in that room, kill myself or go home.

What was my crisis?

My other choice, the one I feared, was to go out onto Commonwealth Avenue with my right leg pants trousers pinned up behind my knee following the amputation of my right lower leg the previous May.

I suddenly couldn't wear my prosthesis because there was this little injury, this little contusion, an annoyance, really, on my stump that just made wearing that klunky leg, impossible.

I had, up to that point, never been without the prosthesis in public. I was terrified to be seen!

What was I going to do?

A poem came to me that proved Ram Dass had it right, the work I had to do was on myself. Indeed the poem was difficult to write because I had to face what was true.


What my thoughts have troubled about
all through the night after night!

It's so very scary


I feel

would rather

what's the worst that could happen?
because it just hurts too much

or having had enough of my own self-hatred
against myself, lonely is

nowhere to go
time to stop feeling sorry
for myself,

time to open my heart
even to this
and call to God.

But writing this poem did help me face it.  The “it” of my truth: grief, loss, pain, shame, self-pity, a longing for help from God and that somehow, in the heart, there was a way for all of this to be met and held.

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.
--Meister Eckhart

It is a willingness to go on the journey of personal transformation that profoundly affects our capacity to act more lovingly, passionately, with growing resilience, courage, openness and determination in the world.

The seeds of all of these were in me already and they expressed in my poem and were germinated by the writing of it.

The work was finding ways to let the rain come, allow for sun and let the seeds be. So they could grow.

There is a power, for me, if not for anyone else, in this poem.  Every line, each word, the way the poem happens on the page and speaks through my voice, that all spoke to me about making room for my life as it is. Writing Even to This helped me to see how poetry was a life line.

Thirty-two years later, I know that poem changed my world for the better and now I share this healing art with others.

I believe the blank page is a landscape for enacting this journey on a personal and planetary level, in both solitude and community. This creative space shared together is where we as individuals can reflect and then act upon our way of life and the kind of institutions we create.

I feel the blank page suggests the value of not knowing, the importance of uncertainty, the possibility of discovery and a way to be heard.

It is a place where humility and power can join.

John F. Kennedy, speaking at the dedication of a library for Robert Frost, less than a month before he was murdered: When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment. --John Fitzgerald Kennedy October 26, 1963, Amherst College

Where are leaders like that these days? I think it could be you, reading this web site.

Considering what we know and face these days about environmental dangers to our planet, where democracy in America is threatened by corruption and lies, where institutions are more concerned with power and greed than service and healing, where religious and political fundamentalists divide people with fear and how this so often, even inevitably, leads to war, how do you and I open our hearts, even to this?

Truthfulness, honor, is not something which springs ablaze of itself, it has to be created between people. --Adrienne Rich

On these pages of the web site, we want to invite a deep interactive participation by you the reader of this web site. We want those who are interested in the healing potential of poetry and writing to connect and share the ways we are making a difference in the world we live in.

I have the good fortune to meet people all over the planet who use this healing art to open even to this in both their personal and professional lives, to what the planet is saying.

We want to create a place for us to listen to one another.

These people affect positive change in the practice of religion and spirituality, medicine, health care, psychology, education, the reclaiming of indigenous traditions, community life, politics, social action, justice, environmental protection, peacemaking.

They find that poem-making and the encouragement of the creative spirit helps people to discover, consider and integrate new and more useful ways of expression for their respective institutions and fields of concern - while still honoring the labor and wisdom that is the legacy of those institutions and concerns.

I am deeply heartened to know these people and I want to share what they are doing and how poetry has helped them.

Here are a few people who will appear on these pages:

Dr. Jack Coulehan in medical humanities; Dr. Cathy Cohen and Reverend Susan Teegan-Case in interfaith work; Albie Clemmer and Brian Moore in the protection of our environment; Jon and Lupita McClanahan in honoring indigenous ways; Merna Ann Hecht in social action and education; Jose Diaz an Iraqi war veteran on recovery from the trauma of war; Kimberly Nelson working with young people who are incarcerated; Jurate Sucylaite, So Young Choi and Haifa AlSounis, all women introducing poetry & healing to their respective countries: Lithuania, South Korea and Kuwait.

We want to share the stories of these people with you. We want to learn about what you do in these ways, to hear about what matters to you.

We are here to witness the creation and to abet it. . .  We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us.

--Annie Dillard

With love,
John Fox

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