poetry therapy

From John Fox

Dear Friends in Poetry,

I make some deep "claims" about the benefits of poetry.  I say it surprises us in a ways that are healing.  I believe it is surprising in large part because words of poem come alive in silence.  I believe this joining of silence with word is where the voice of the soul flourishes. 

But what blocks someone from experiencing these benefits?

What keeps someone from trying?

While it is probably not just one thing, it is possible that at some point in your life, as a child or as an adult, your creative voice have been discouraged, discounted, criticized or outright ignored.  Your self-expression was given a short shrift.

Such are the wounds we carry in this regard related to our creative spirit.  Poetic Medicine is dedicated to a skillful tending to these wounds and with patience and trust, mending that kind of brokenness.  

One way to start to heal a wound to our creativity is to recognize that we have lost a sense of playfulness about and pleasure in language.

We ask people: Did anyone have a 4th grade teacher who asked you, before your spelling test, "Which words do you like and enjoy the sound of? Which words delight and excite your ear?"  It’s rare for someone to say a teacher asked them such a question!

We ask them to say favorite words aloud so everyone can hear.  The pleasure and fun in the atmosphere increases noticeably as words are flung into the air.

There is magic and power in language that poets, children, mystics, lovers, people with broken hearts, revolutionaries, and indigenous people have had access to for eons, and their lasting words have inspired others. You too can recover and express this magic.

When you write with feeling and expression, it is also a way to bolster your health.  Dr. James Pennebaker’s research at University of Texas at Austin strongly indicates that expressive writing increases immune system function and decreases hospital visits.

Dr. Joshua Smythe and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have further shown writing can significantly increase the lung function of people suffering from asthma and decrease symptoms of those with rheumatoid arthritis. 

We are enthusiastic about this and other on-going research.  This includes research The Institute for Poetic Medicine supports and sponsors through a partnership with the National Association for Poetry Therapy and the Bristol Royal Infirmary/CHEE World Health Organization.

But what matters to me personally is something I know from direct experience. Poetry Heals!

When I was eighteen years old, immediately following my freshman year at Boston University, my right leg was amputated just below my knee.  In the midst of much pain, I struggled with this decision throughout the school year.

The amputation was the result of a lifelong problem with my leg caused by a genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis.  This seriously affected nerves, bone and my circulatory system.  Before the amputation, beginning at the age of five, I went through about seven surgeries.

Poem-making and poetry was my lifeline. During my post amputation rehab time, other patients, family, hospital staff and high school friends helped me.  But writing was something I could take with me when I returned to college.  It went with me everywhere.

As I struggled with and expressed loss, grief and shame; a window to the unknown, but also the true, opened up for me through writing.  A connection to something greater than me and yet what I identified as my essential self came through that "open window" of the page. 

Through poetry and poem-making I found a tremendous tool to help me live with my experience, the dark and light, and grow.  Writing and listening to poetry showed me a spiritual resilience within and helped tune me to and join with a kind of beauty and meaning in life as a whole, and these are what sustain me.

You may have experienced a time when poetry made a significant difference to you in both dark and light times. Such times might include:

  • Remembering poems read aloud to you by a parent, caregiver and/or a valued teacher.
  • Writing your first poem at 2 a.m. as a way to cope with loss.
  • A poem by your favorite poet that you keep folded in your wallet or in your handbag because it reminds you of what matters.
  • Keeping a notebook to write your thoughts in – and discovering one day you are making poems!

The connections with poetry are more common than you think!

Our workshops foster a supportive and respectful atmosphere that allows your creative voice to be heard. Our workshops inspire people who are just beginning and refresh those who have been writing for a "long time" to find more meaning and purpose to their writing.

Even in a world of 500+ cable channels, the connections people have with poetry are more common than you think!  I think it’s because of all those channels that people are beginning to long for poetry more.

We speak frequently to professional groups: therapists, teachers, health professionals, pastoral counselors, writers and others, on ways poetry and healing can expand and enrich their life perspective, evoke empathy and creative insight, and how they can apply those in their work.

If you are in a helping profession, our workshops can provide you with techniques and tools that can rekindle your enthusiasm for helping those you serve.

If you want to develop this creative voice within yourself, poetry and poem-making can be a companion on your journey. We hope this web site will inform, inspire and nourish your interest.

Warm Regards,
John Fox

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