September 9, 2016

Poetry Therapy and Healing

Each of us has a unique part to play in the healing of the world. - Marianne Williamson


Readers of this blog and poetry contributors to Poets Online don't need to be told that poetry can contribute to healing. As readers and as writers of poetry, we can all think of instances when a poem helped us or someone we know to heal.

Healing can be taken literally, as in coping with diseases both physical and mental. And healing can be seen as that process that moves us through transformation and into growth from a bad place to a better one.

In "Finding the Words to Say It: The Healing Power of Poetry", Robert Carroll writes about his use of poetry (his own and others) to facilitate healing.

In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, poetry sprang up everywhere. A New York Times article on October 1, 2001, documented the phenomenon: “In the weeks since the terrorist attacks, people have been consoling themselves—and one another—with poetry in an almost unprecedented way … Improvised memorials often conceived around poems sprang up all over the city, in store windows, at bus stops, in Washington Square Park, Brooklyn Heights, and elsewhere. …” 
Some catastrophes are so large, they seem to overwhelm ordinary language. Immediately after the recent tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia, the Los Angeles Times reported the witnesses were literally dumbstruck. Words failed them. They had lost their voices. 
In mainstream culture, there are subjects we do not talk about. They are taboo. For example, even though each of us is going to die, we don't talk about dying. Instead, we avoid it. Even physicians are reluctant to talk with terminally ill patients about the patient's experience... 
Poetry gives us ways to talk about it. My job as a poetry therapist is to use poetry and voice to help people get access to the wisdom they already have but cannot experience because they cannot find the words in ordinary language.
I wouldn't recommend poetry as "alternative medicine" or a substitute for traditional medicine, but I would recommend it as a supplement to any treatments.

For our writing prompt this month, I am more interested in the figurative sense of healing, but there are certainly many examples of poets who have used the more literal sense of healing in their poems.

You may not be aware of "poetry therapy" which is defined by the National Association for Poetry Therapy as "the intentional use of the written and spoken word to facilitate healing, growth and transformation." Their membership includes mental health providers, medically trained physicians, nurses, educators, and artists, writers and others who use poems or the writing process as a healing practice.

I have always found that being out in nature feels like healing to me. This feeling is captured simply in "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry.  He says "When despair for the world grows in me" that he will "lie down where the wood drake / rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds."

What is it that we find there that feels like it can heal us? I think we envy at moments like that the wild things "who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief" and want to be in that freeing place, if only for a short time.

Our September writing prompt is simply "healing."

Submission deadline: September 30, 2016


There is a very good list of healing poems at writingandhealing.org, and the collection, The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, also has good examples, and there are many articles online, such as "Poetry and Healing."



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