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Review: Poetic Medicine – The Healing Art of Poem-Making

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Beyond poetry’s elegant use of language, it has the power to heal. Deeply.

John Fox explores this capacity in Poetic Medicine. Through the use of poetry, writers/readers can gain access to the restorative power of creativity. This a different tack than the general premise of art therapy, in which there an outside construct, psychology, used to interpret and shape work. Fox believes in the inherent restorative power contained in the actual process of writing, in naming and describing
one's own reality.

In the chapter "When God Sighs," healing from loss, illness and death are explored, with the idea that writing can be a vehicle to confront and transform our feelings about these difficult subjects. Through this process of naming and claiming, I have written about my own incest experience, and now have a kind of mastery over it. Through writing poetry and scripting a performance, I have also transformed the subject matter from mere journaling to something transcendent, and hopefully, universal in its scope. Having had one experience of transformation and transcendence, I look for it again in developing a trilogy of work which has as its theme childhood violence. In pieces like REM/Memory and Bury the Bones this year, I am attempting to achieve mastery over my experience of childhood violence. But beyond exorcising personal demons, I hope to create a provocative body of work, challenging the viewer to examine their own attraction to, and repulsion with violence.

In "Poems of Witness in a Conflicted World," Fox uses the chapter to call on writers/readers to look at social issues, take a stand and publicly comment on them. In that sense, this section reflects the most recent Goddard residency's theme of engaged practice. The idea of bearing witness is taken to a new level, as Fox insists that the writer can be a be a challenge to the status quo, and should take on that role as challenger as an explicit responsibility. Again, in asking the audience to take a hard look at the culture-wide ambivalence toward violence, I believe I echo Fox's sentiments and the residency's themes for this semester. This cutting to the heart of things is who I am , reflected in both past and current work. The issue of violence, abuse and our ambivalent, voyeuristic relationship to it continues to be an ongoing thematic concern for me, and I hope to create dialogs with the audience on these issues.

Throughout the book, Fox uses works by famous and unknown writers to illustrate how poetry sheds light on dark places, and shapes hearts and minds. While the book also contains writing exercises, its strength is that it calls upon writers/readers to root themselves in the beauty, the struggles, and daily life that surrounds them. I found the general view and excerpts of a vast range of poetry the most helpful. It reinforced why I write, the reason I choose the subject matter I choose, and my understanding of who is my audience.

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About Lisa Alvarado