Guest Reflection by John Fox (excerpt from letter posted on poeticmedicine.org, with permission)
Dear Friends in Poetry,
I make deep claims about the benefits of poetry. I say it surprises us in ways that are healing. I believe it is surprising in large part because the words of a poem come alive in silence and in the space that surrounds a poem. I believe this joining of spacious silence with words is where the voice of the soul flourishes.
But what blocks someone from experiencing these benefits and blessings? 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 was discouraged, discounted, criticized or outright ignored. Your self-expression, in one way or another, was given short shrift. Such are the wounds we carry related to our creative spirit. Poetic Medicine is dedicated to a skillful tending to these wounds and with patience and trust, mending this kind of brokenness.
One way to start to heal wounds to our creativity is to recognize that we have lost a sense of playfulness, enjoyment and taking sheer pleasure in language.
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, even free of the constraint of time and death, have inspired others.
Watching the moon
I knew myself completely,
no part left out.
—Izumi Shikibu, born 976 (?), translated from the Japanese
You can recover and express this magic. You may, in the process, recognize the absolute necessity of having and claiming your own words.
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 shows that expressive writing increases immune system function and decreases hospital visits.
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, throughout that previous school year, I struggled with this decision.
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 four and a half, I went through about seven surgeries.
Poem-making and poetry, over time, became my lifeline, especially in my mid-teens I gave myself completely to poetry. During my post amputation rehab time, other patients, family, hospital staff and high school friends helped me but writing was something I could bring with me when I returned to college.
Poetry and poem-making was a companion who 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 myself and yet what I identified with as my essential nature came through that “open window” of the page, like light in the vast night sky. I wrote this poem before the amputation, when I was about seventeen:
IN THE HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM
There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon, that object
And that object became part of him for the day
or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.ʺ
The people are seated in the chairs, lined
in the halls and waiting:
some looking at Time, most somber:
save two little girls, patient
and singing ‐‐ one’s embroidering,
a singing embroidery!
Waiting for nothing, skipping along
past the people, past office partitions
that are not there for these little children,
so much like garden‐walkers!
Whitman, I go forth, yet, shall I become
pictures of my bones?
X‐rayed through this dense sea, this film shows me
the heavy anchor that I seem to be.
This goes deepest.
Behind the picture is light!
This last image provided a glimpse of something that I could, eventually, live into.
Through poetry and poem-making I found a tremendous tool to help me live with my experience, both the dark and light, and continue to 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.
We humans are at our best when we enjoy poetry.
Sometimes all you need is to reflect in your mind one poem
that says, ‘I can make it through’
— Maya Angelou
I am excited to be back in Austin April 26th-27th, 2019 to explore the breadth and depth of “epiphany” that poetry and poem-making offers. I look forward to supporting you in experiencing the wisdom, aha’s and epiphanies that poetry opens us up to. Please join me!