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April, 2010

Is there a human mouth
that does not give out soul sound?
Is there a love, a drawing together of any kind,
that is not sacred?
 Jelaluddin Rumi, Persian poet

Students from the class of Carrie Stradley at Foster High in Seattle, WA

Stories of Arrival: Youth Voices

A Poetry Project
Funded by The Institute for Poetic Medicine
(Guided by Merna Hecht, Winter 2009)

Students arrived as refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Nepal, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Congo, Tanzania,Togo, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Romania, Vietnam, and Mexico.  Students are gathered in front of the entrance to Jack Straw Productions.  The good people of Jack Straw gave full and free support to these young people - providing voice coaches and bringing the entire class to the studio to professionally record their poems. 

The Institute is refunding the Youth Voices project in 2010!  Please stay tuned for an indepth report on Stories of Arrival and many other poetry to heal initiatives of The Institute for Poetic Medicine.

A Letter From John Fox, CPT, President
The Institute for Poetic Medicine

Dear Friend,

Welcome to the online Poetic Medicine Journal and especially to everyone who recently sent an e-mail address to The Institute for Poetic Medicine.
We are people who comprise a dynamic range of personal interests and helping/healing professions.  Our common ground is a shared appreciation for poetry as healer, appreciation profoundly enriched and made more beautiful and true by our exciting diversity - as you will see in the stories to follow.
What I believe (even if I do not know you!) is that you already have gifts and skills, experiences and curiosities about poetry as healer, and you may be bringing those into your personal life and professional work.  
And perhaps you are seeking specific ways for how to begin, for how to do this more effectively with others and for yourself.  Our purpose at The Institute for Poetic Medicine is to encourage, educate and inspire you in that regard.
When approached in a way that emphasizes giving safety rather than critique, poem-making helps a person connect to their sources of creativity, resilience and courage.

In this fast-paced media world, pervaded by special effects and all kinds of technological gadgetry, poetic medicine is an essentially simple process which makes it possible for a person and for a community of people to slow down, even stop, to listen to each other.

This gradual process nurtures our ability to stay with and be present with what normally may cause us to pull way - not only pull away from painful situations that cause discomfort, but to draw back from feeling the intimacy of your open heart as it learns to express. In this safe and sacred place, what a person writes can be attended to, and over time, taken further with continued writing.
This reconnection with soulfulness and courage may well mean being able to finally pour out a raw truth. Something that was previously unspeakable (and may feel anything but beautiful) can be spoken, released and let go. When working with that deep material, either in a guided group, or one-on-one between counselor and client, it is possible for that poem to help evoke therapeutic and spiritual growth.
And that is what helps us recover ourselves as whole persons.  Paradoxically, by taking the risk to name and express our broken places, this expressive art opens our hearts to the life-giving possibilities inherent in wholeness: growth and connection.

In the first chapter of Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-making, a woman named Cathy reflects upon a poem she wrote in a workshop I led that expresses with raw imagery her debilitating lower back pain.  She says what it was like to write her poem and read it to her therapist:

Atl WC"When I looked up I saw tears filling her eyes, and in an instant, I fell headlong into a world I had felt separated from by intense physical pain; the world of being known, seen, understood and cared for.
After writing this poem and reading it to this therapist, something changed.  I didn't feel
helplessly speechless about hurting, even though I still had pain."

The great gift of speaking our truth and sharing our experiences is that it enriches our contact with others, who are then often heartened to do the same with us. 
Here are stories of people and places where poetry is being used to heal.  I hope you will give yourself time to read this newsletter, to draw inspiration from the stories and useful information and tools from the resources we offer.

Where Poetic Medicine
Has Traveled
In the fall of 2009 I made visits to many institutions in the eastern part of the United States.  Working in collaboration with a Child Life specialist, a clinical social worker/expressive arts practitioner and a Director of Pastoral Care, I brought poetic medicine to the people they serve.  They write about that experience. 
Blythedale Children's Hospital in Vahalla, NY - children and young people with disabilities and physical challenges

New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady, NY - people of all ages in the process of recovery from alcohol and drugs

St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT - bringing poetic medicine to a pastoral care team

John's 2010 Schedule

Please see where I'll be.  I hope to meet you along the way!

A Range of Resources

This section provides you with links related to the uses of poetry as healer:

A Room for Learningby Tal Birdsey (a review);

Links for using poetry with people living with "forgetfulness", dementia and Alzheimer's;

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Poetry books that address particular concerns such as: living as an adopted person, or as someone who struggles with and overcomes an eating disorder;
 Atl WCBeing There, a new book on grief by Marianna Cacciatore;

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The work of Jacinta White, founder of The Word Project and co-director of LifeVerse in Greensboro, North Carolina;

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New talks on CD from Stephen Levine about the spiritual potentials of "medicine poetry";

 Atl WCThe work of Ray McGinnis and Writing the Sacred;

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Resources from The Institute for Poetic Medicine

Follow-up to IPM's Appeal for Haiti Earthquake Relief

Please read this update on the donation appeal and news about Toussaint L'Overture High School that appeared in our last communication.  You'll read the experiences of IPM friend, Diane Richard Allerdyce, and her work helping with earthquake recovery in Haiti.

We encourage you to find ways to bring poetry as healer more into your life and work. I appreciate your interest and welcome knowing how this newsletter is helpful to you.  Please be in contact with us; we value your feedback and comments. 


John Fox
President, The Institute for Poetic Medicine


The Institute for Poetic Medicine Program

at Blythedale Children's Hospital
Valhalla, New York

Observations by
Lisa Levinson, BA, CCLS
Child Life Coordinator

Left to Right:  Lisa Levinson, BA, CCLS, Child Life Coordinator;
Morgan Nichols, MS, CCLS, Child Life Specialist;
Patricia Stanley, M.A., Blythedale Board Trustee;
John Fox, CPT, Institute for Poetic Medicine

Blythedale 1

It seems to me that there is in each of us a capacity to comprehend the impressions and emotions that have been experienced by humankind from the beginning.                                        
~ Helen Keller ~

Bringing Poetry as Healer to Blythedale

We were able to bring John Fox of The Institute for Poetic Medicine (IPM) to Blythedale Children's Hospital after a connection had been made between Mr. Fox and Pat Stanley, a board trustee.

The two met at a summer conference conducted by The Foundation for Humanities in Medicine, held at Sarah Lawrence College, in Westchester County.  John was on faculty for the nationwide conference, entitled "Writing the Medical Experience."  People from all parts of the medical profession -- including patients - attended. 
Pat felt most passionately that poetry therapy, or "poetic medicine," as John Fox calls it, would be a beneficial modality for Blythedale's pediatric patients and staff. Dr. Joelle Mast, CMO, identified Child Life as the department best positioned to collaborate with John. 
Since that initial visit to Blythedale for one day in 2007, we have hosted John again for a three-day intensive, in November 2009.

Blythedale is a specialized hospital for children and adolescents with a most diverse population of patients.  We have children, for example, who have strong voices, but weaker bodies.  Through John's work many of them found ways to feel empowered by their bodies' different manners of moving or not moving.  We have other children with voices that aren't audible in the usual way, who through their assistive communication devices, can write and read poetry in ways that for others are quite humbling.

The Daily Work of Child Life

Lisa Levinson
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As certified
Child Life specialists, our work revolves around the impact that illness, injury and hospitalization have on physical and emotional growth.  We study ways to help children better understand and cope with their required treatments and to process healthcare and other critical experiences at a comfortable pace. We want them to grow from challenges, not regress.  Normalizing the hospital environment is crucial, as are play opportunities. 
Much of our work revolves around the assessment of patients and matching coping strategies to the needs of patients and/or the children and families we service.  Individuals are unique and our bag of tools must be large and accessible. Modalities that work for a particular child may become consistent, but, other times we may need different resources at different times.  While distraction, breathing techniques or guided imagery may effect successful coping during procedures or therapy, journaling and poem-writing can be parallel modalities that provide concurrent support.

An Affinity of Approaches:  Child Life and Poetic Medicine
John's philosophy and style were easy for my staff and me to connect with, as he shares many of the same intentions and philosophies of Child Life specialists.  
John has seen the ways in which the arts are healing and is able to introduce his work based on an ongoing assessment of those for whom he is programming. He is process-oriented and knows how to create the type of environment in which people of all ages feel supported and safe. John can build rapport quickly with others, and is able to create a bridge between individuals who come to the table with unique healthcare challenges and life experiences. With John approaching his work with this posture, he was a ready extension of the work Child Life specialists strive to provide.

Evidence of Specific Benefits

Benefits of the IPM Program were evident immediately, but there were also gifts and outcomes of John's work which unfolded over time.  The immediate effects of his work include people's improved understanding of what poetry can be and what it can look like.  The children learned poetry is not all flowers, love and colorful stuff.  It can be painful, raw and even ugly. Or it can be both, sitting together, in the same poem.  A lot of people don't realize that.  John makes it clear.
John facilitated group work at Blythedale, as well as 1:1 sessions. In the group forum, we saw an outpouring of respect and acceptance between our young patients.
John Fox & Lisa Levinson with children at Blythedale
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An eighteen-year old girl from our adolescent unit, for example, lives with a chronic, degenerative illness that imposes limited physical positioning, even with adaptive equipment.  Peers had grown accustomed to seeing her twisted body, prone on a stretcher, limiting socialization opportunities. But on the inside, there existed a bright and witty teen, eager for what we all crave: peer acceptance, cognitive challenges, a sense of belonging and opportunities to contribute within a group and within society.
John's teen Poetry Group provided a forum that met her needs.  Her strong contribution to the session allowed unit peers to view her in a different, clearer light.  "I didn't know you were so smart," said a nineteen-year old young man, also hospitalized. "Thank you," she replied, "I appreciate that comment."  
This was a crucial moment that identified how perceptions can be shaped unnecessarily by appearances.  This young woman developed a confidence in the group that fueled her poem-writing about respect and listening.
In the midst of adversity, this community-building is vital.
Our patients learned that poetry sometimes comes from their head, but often comes right from the heart and it's okay to let the words jump out without judging or hedging.  Our patients and staff learned the importance of taking ownership of their words and poems  by reading aloud and sharing their poems with others.
John included staff education during his visits.  This has been facilitated through roundtable expressive exercises.  My experiences as John has guided hospital employees in discussion and practice have been moving.  Taking time during the fast-paced day to acknowledge one's losses and challenges and to speak to one's own practice in terms of writing, coping and managing stress is so important.  To hear the experiences of others is invaluable.  The effects for staff can parallel those for the children.  A feeling of community is built, and a sense of "connectedness." 
Long Term Effects - How Child Life Follows Through
Long-term effects of John's work were revealed in the children's Child Life sessions, on the patient units and in our day hospital. An example that comes to mind readily is one of a wheelchair-bound teen-age boy who had already written poetry of his own before meeting John Fox.  The fact that he had been "a poet under the radar," but was able to share this pursuit as a coping tool once John was on the scene, was fabulous. 
This teen began writing more poetry after John's visit, and found that words, and voicing them to Morgan Nichols, his Child Life specialist, provided more than an outlet for his struggles. They became a catalyst for forging a friendship with another teen whom he had previously not had a strong connection.  The adolescents found that they had common ground that wasn't visible to the eye.  They worked on a poem together that was empowering and esteem-building.  They're friends now.

Conclusion:  There is Time to Listen -
The Gifts of Being Heard

One of the reasons John is as effective as he is, is that he approaches others with the respect and open-mind of one who has been "in the soup."  Shaped by his own complex healthcare experiences, John takes care not to impose his experience on others, but listens to people with rare attention, and intention.  His presence sets the tone of the space he and others share for a while, and this tone seems equal in power to his expertise as a poetry therapist.
Processing an event facilitated through The Institute for Poetic Medicine is fascinating.  There is so much to reflect upon, and I say this on behalf of our children as well as of staff dedicated to professional enrichment.  When one looks back at the interactions that develop when John leads groups or sessions, there are teachable moments everywhere. 
In a note I wrote to John in November, after our three-day intensive, I shared that a IPM experience "brought out the best in a number of our teens and we feel blessed to have been witness to the words that were shared."  I compared John to "a magic trick that requires studying in order to see and understand exactly what is happening."  Pat Stanley recently used the words "magic and miracles" to describe the interactions that unfolded that day.
Given the hand life can deal any one of us, child or adult, unexpectedly or inevitably, it is vital to tap into healing modalities such as poetry.  All one needs is a pencil or pen and an open and non-judgmental mind.  As John has proven, the rest will come.

To Learn More About Child Life Council (Lisa Levinson in photo):   (CLICK HERE)

To Learn More About The Program in Narrative Medicine(co-founded by Pat Stanley, Blythedale Board Trustee):

To Learn More About Blythedale Children's Hospital:

Atl WC

Butterfly on Honeysuckle

I am the butterfly that flies freely.

I am the open light in the sky.
I am the sun that warms the earth.
I am the stars that light the night sky.
I am the lizard that basks in the sun.
I am the laugh that makes you cry.
I am the miracle of life.
I am the new beginning in an old world
~Hilary, Mark, Justin, Pat, Ruth & Carlos

                                                                        Based on the famous poem
                                       The Delight Song of Tsao-Talee by Navarre Scott Momaday
                                                                (To Read the Poem: CLICK HERE)

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Hilary's Song 

When you deeply listen to me
I feel respected.
It is like listening
To the lyrics of a song.
When someone doesn't listen to me
I feel disrespected,
Hurt, I feel like
I am boring.

When I listen to someone
I feel like I am giving them
Respect, it is like
Listening to my favorite song.

When I don't listen to someone

I feel like I am disrespecting them.
It's as if I am listening to
A very boring story. 
When I listen to myself, I
Feel confident, when
I listen to myself it is
As if I am following
My heart's desire. 

 ~ Hilary (18 years)

Atl WC

Desert Days

  I am a vulture of the sky.  I am looking the world
                                                 over. I feed on dead
                                                 carcass that I spot
                                                from above. I surface
                                                 the deserts dreaming of
                                                 a fresh nice juicy
  Atl WCelk. I feel pride in
  myself and in my
  findings. I am
  bold and brave.
  My fellow companions
  see glory in me with
  my head held high in
                                                 the sky no one can
                                                 stop me because I
                                                 see that beyond the
                                                 stars and the sky I am
                                                 free. Don't you see?

                                         ~Monique (11 years)

     Atl WC

When you deeply listen to me
it feels like there's an infinite time of respect and care
like a river passing on the goods and the bads
When somebody doesn't listen to me it makes me feel like a speck of sand just lying there in the dust
When I listen to somebody it makes me feel like a teacher listening to his favorite book
When I don't listen to somebody it makes me feel guilty of crime and daydreaming in the sky
When I listen to myself I have a sense of confidence and pride like
a bowler in the last frame about to break his record

~ Mark (12 years)

Atl WC

Poetry and Poem-Making:
A Modality to Support Sobriety
at New Choices Recovery Center
Schenectady, New York

Observations by
Judith Prest, LMSW, Expressive Arts Practitioner

Judith Prest

If you don't tell the truth about yourself,
you cannot tell it about other people. 

~ Virginia Woolf

The poetic medicine workshop at New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady was a catalyst for many of the clients to speak and write about what is true for them.  Some of the clients who wrote in response to the workshop had not written anything before, in fact one of them never had learned to write beyond signing his name.  When John gave us a writing prompt, he "spoke" his poetry to me and I acted as scribe for him. 
Several weeks later when poems were typed, copied and handed out to the authors, this particular client was grinning from ear to ear, clearly delighted to be a published poet.  An experience of genuine validation, joy and satisfaction like that is what makes me a believer in the use of arts in recovery.

A Prompt to Write More
Other gains were less obvious, but it seems that even one day of poetic medicine was a prompt for some of the participants to write more and to begin to experience how poetry (and journaling) can be incorporated into their "tools for recovery."
I have some clients for whom writing is part of their regular daily practice. Two particular clients come to mind when I think about the impact of the workshop.  These were people who already were writing but the experience with John Fox reinforced what they were already doing.  John's deep encouragement and faith took them a step or two further.

One woman gets a new journal from me every few weeks because she fills them up that quickly!  One young man spends every "open studio" session with his lined composition book open, either writing something new or revising something he's recently written. He writes poetry constantly and says it helps him keep his balance in recovery.

A Larger Picture Out There:
Bringing Expressive Arts into Recovery

My experience of being present, witnessing the work John Fox did with the clients at New Choices was that I was very moved by the depth of the work.  Working within the very tight frame of time of a group session at New Choices, John had a way of listening carefully and deeply and I believe this allowed each person to feel safe, to feel heard and therefore willing to "risk" writing and reading out loud what they wrote.

 Atl WCThere was, for many clients, a felt sense of excitement and pride in speaking their poems to the group.  Others, while being more tentative, or declining to read at all, were clearly, almost as a result of their gentle vulnerability that was held in safety by both John and their peers, touched by the process and present to their feelings in a way that demonstrated that a therapeutic process was occurring.     
One benefit to me as the regular "art person" at New Choices is that clients, staff and administration were all able to see that there is a "larger picture" out there - that there are people around the country and the world who believe in the healing power of poetry. 
This is important because clinicians have a lot on their plates and it is hard for them to consider modalities other than the group process and "talk therapy" that are so much a part of the recovery field.
Clinicians who observed and participated in the poetic medicine sessions came away from the workshops with a much better understanding of what it is I am trying to do in my expressive arts work with the clients at New Choices.
A Huge Shift in the Practice of Social Work: 
Lighting People Up with Expressive Arts
In my own healing journey, poetry and the arts have been a lifeline.  I returned to writing fourteen years ago after a twenty-something year journey through marriage, graduate school, career, infertility and adoption.  It was only when a friend encouraged me to join the International Women's Writing Guild that I realized that I COULD reclaim the "writer" part of my identity which I had jettisoned as I encountered the pressures of "real life" after college. 
Writing poetry again after such a long "break" brought a new energy into my personal life and my career.  The link between writing and healing became clear to me as I rediscovered my own creativity and made space for it in my life.  Re-claiming the "writer" in me is one of the most positive steps I've taken in my life.
Returning to writing was a huge catalyst for my own healing from a number of "life-wounds" and it also caused a huge shift in the way I practice social work. I found that if I put a painful experience into poetry, I was able to better understand it AND release it.  As I began to write and heal, as I began to make visual art and heal, I realized what a powerful tool the arts are for those people with whom I work. The arts and poetry provide a place for reflection, for growth, for becoming whole. I regularly incorporate poetry and other creative art modalities into my work in school, community agencies and prisons.
I have seen the faces of women in prison light up as they read a piece they have written.  Like the gentleman who allowed me to be his "poetry scribe" and then was so pleased to see his work in print, it feels that this "lighting up" from within is a gift for which there are few adequate words but "thank you."

To Learn More About Judith and/or to Contact Her About Her Work, go to Facebook:                  (CLICK HERE)

To Learn More About New Choices Recovery Center: 

Atl WC

I have a feeling that today will be different

I need to change my anger
       Into something clean and good
I need to change my dreams and goals
       into something real
I need to fight for myself
       not causing damage in the process
My gardens need to be tended
       as does my heart.
I often feel lonely in this battle
even as I am surrounded by others.
I love beautiful things - birds,
singing, dancing, frogs, flowers...
       and the list goes on...
I need to breathe, love, laugh
Today will be that day
       It WILL be different.
~ Jen M. (11/01/09)

Atl WC

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Nowhere else to go so I walked with a frown.

It remained the same country to country, city to city
as it did in this town.
Nowhere else to go I finally reached my down
analyzing each path I took as I looked around
I'm back where I started with thoughts to stop
until I saw the ups, Now I'm climbing to the top.
~ Nate M.

Atl WC

Where will I end?
My roots are growing
To me ever so slowly
As I get deeper into the soil
I gain more strength, more energy
I can see the light,
feel the warmth of the sun.
I pray to see another day
and as my roots grow deeper,

~ Paula F. (11-05-09)

Atl WC


Poetic Medicine Supports
the Work of Pastoral Care Counselors:
Self-Renewal & Evoking Prayers of the Heart

Observations by
Suzanne Nolan, Chaplain, Director of Spiritual Care
Judith Carey, RSM, Hospital Vice President
St. Francis Hospital
Hartford, Connecticut

Left to Right:  Judith Carey, RSM; John Fox;
Suzanne Nolan, Chaplain & Director of Spiritual Care

As hospital chaplains, we listen to and take into our hearts the stories of our patients and their families.  While this ministry is ultimately fulfilling, it requires that we often carry difficult emotions as well as the raw reality of physical pain and deterioration. 
Prayer can ease this burden and poetry can often express what seems inexpressible and bring some peace.  The IPM program held at St. Francis this past fall on poem-making provided tools, inspiration and affirmation for us to write poems about our experience and to see how this could also help our patients and their family. 
Sitting together, along with people who paused to lean over the balcony in our busy hospital rotunda, listening to John Fox read poetry and Pam Johnson playing the flute, was deep nourishment for our weary spirits.
Poetry is a universal language that can transcend religious and cultural differences.  This is much needed as a way of healing in our current hospital environment.  In some situations a poem can convey understanding of a situation where normal conversation would be inadequate.  Healing can happen.
I watched John Fox work with an individual patient to write a poem about her current hospital experience. His ability to listen deeply and to assist her in finding words of expression was extraordinary.  That was a beautiful and poetic experience.

~Suzanne Nolan
Chaplain & Director of Pastoral Care
Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center

The IPM program was such a breath of fresh air and moved all participants into another perspective on healing other than the delivery of traditional medicine. There was no question that people moved more deeply into the creative and inner sense of life.

For me personally, being at John's session was freeing and centering.  I never risked poetry writing as I felt I was "not creative enough."  Using the bowl of words and phrases was fun while at the same time very profound. This activity gave me a new understanding of poetry and I have "risked" doing more.
~ Judith A. Carey, RSM, PhD
Vice President, Mission Integration
Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center


Please join John and The Institute for Poetic Medicine
at the following upcoming events -
and consider forwarding this issue
to at least three friends and/or family members!

Healing Words:  Poetry & Medicine

April 8, 2010

Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics

Stanford Medical School
Stanford, California

Finding the Words to Say It:
The Healing Art of Poem-Making

April 12 & 13, 2010

Richmond City Jail
Education Department
Richmond, Virginia

Poetic Medicine
April 23, 2010

AIDS Retreat
Center for Living with Dying
Santa Clara, CA

To Visit the Center for Living With Dying's Website:

Finding the Words to Say It:
The Healing Art of Poem-Making

(an Inservice for Health & Healing Professions)
Poetic Medicine:
The Healing Art of Poem-Making
May 5 & 7 - 8, 2010

Tucson, Arizona

For PDF Flyers For These Events:  
Wednesday, May 5:                (CLICK HERE)
Friday/Saturday, May 7-8:   (CLICK HERE)

The Nature of Poetry:
Exploring the Beautway

A 7 day retreat
May 25 - June 1, 2010

Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

For PDF Flyer For This Event:      (CLICK HERE)

The Healing Art of Writing
June 27 - July 2, 2010

Dominican University of California
San Rafael, California
(John will be at the conference until the evening of June 29th)

For PDF Flyer For This Event:    (CLICK HERE)

Seeing Takes Time:
A Five Day Retreat in Canada

June 30 - July 4, 2010

Rivendell Retreat Center
Bowen Island, British Columbia

For PDF Flyer For This Event:    (CLICK HERE)

Poetic Medicine
July 7 - 8, 2010

The Korean Institute for Poetry Therapy
Seoul, South Korea

July 9 - 10, 2010

Kangwon National University
2nd International Conference on Humanities Therapy
Chuncheon, South Korea

Poetic Medicine:
The Healing Art of Poem-Making
(A talk and mini-workshop with John Fox, CPT)
July 23 (Friday), 2010

Kaiser Permanente Town Hall
Portland, OR

Sponsored by The Permanente Journal
and The Health and Renewal Program (HARP)

For PDF Flyer For This Event:   (CLICK HERE)

The Soul's Language:
A Writing Workshop to Give Voice to the Sacred

July 24 - 25, 2010

The Garden Sanctuary
Portland, Oregon

Sponsored by The Institute for Earth Regenerative Studies

For PDF Flyer For This Event:    (CLICK HERE)

The Journey of the Undivided Life:

Reclaiming Your Hidden Wholeness
Through the Healing Art of Poetry
With Co-Leader Sally Hare, Ph.D.

September 10-12, 2010
Burlingame, California

For PDF Flyer For This Event:    (CLICK HERE)
To Visit Sally Hare's Website:    (CLICK HERE)

A Room for Learning:
The Making of a School in Vermont

by Tal Birdsey

  A Review by Elaine Sullivan MEd, LMFT, LPC

I am a retired educator who has spent over fifty years in the classroom teaching ages six to eighty.  I was a school principal at one time.  I taught elementary, middle and high school and then moved to higher education at both the community college and the university.  I began to work with Parker Palmer in 1998.  In 2003 I began working as co-director of the Center for Renewal and Wholeness in Higher Education in the Dallas Community College District, preparing facilitators from around the country in work based on the writings of Parker Palmer. His books include The Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak and A Hidden Wholeness.

Recently my friend, John Fox sent me a new book entitled, A Room for Learning-The Making of a School in Vermont by Tal Birdsey.  I could not put this book down, as I was so inspired by the courage this man has to awaken students to who they really are. 

His use of music, poetry, art, nature, science and the art of community building is truly inspiring. I was delighted to see how he used Steven's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and, of course, I thought of the article by Parker Palmer, Thirteen Ways of Looking at Community (...with a 14th thrown in for free).

It is a challenge for me to express the depth of gratitude I feel to Tal Birdsey for his critique of our educational system and his willingness to engage students in a different learning environment.  His writing brought me back to 1972 when I began my work with student stories in a community college where many colleagues believed I was just a "touchy feely" woman who did not understand real education. 

Reading Tal's story of his school reminded me of the incredible learning that took place when students wrote stories from the depth of their souls and learned to hold safe space for each other.  It gives me so much hope to meet an educator who is so willing to do what I saw Tal Birdsey do in this remarkable story.

Atl WCElaine Sullivan is a consultant, counselor and educator with Sullivan Associates; Center for Renewal and Wholeness in Higher Education; The Center for Courage and Renewal.

Contact Elaine at:

To Visit Tal Birdsey's Website/Blog and to Learn More About the Book:     (CLICK HERE)

The People They Brought Me:
Poems in the Adoption Community

by Penny Callan Partridge

Penny Callan Partridge is a well-known author and speaker at adoption conferences. Her latest book consists of twenty poems, fourteen of which are accompanied by stories of how they came to be written and the results of their reaching one perfect reader or listener. THE PEOPLE THEY BROUGHT ME made this reviewer want to write. It made this birth mother wish adoptees would read Penny's book and have their own thoughts and feelings validated. It would make a lovely gift for an adopted person who is searching, or who has searched, or for any adoption triad member who enjoys reading.

~ Barbara Free, M.A., Operation Identity, New Mexico

To Visit Penny's Website and Order the Book:   (CLICK HERE)

To Learn More About The American Adoption Congress:

Hunger Speaks:  A Memoir Told in Poetry -
A Celebration of Recovery from an Eating Disorder

by Carolyn Jennings

Carolyn Jennings' memoir, Hunger Speaks, is rich with images that settle into the cells of 'knowing' held in the belly of an eating disorder.  Through phrase and feeling, she gracefully chronicles the 'secret language' of an eating disorder to unlock the treasure of its truths.  She speaks for many as she exposes the emptiness behind the hunger.  Her work is both moving and stark simultaneously, an inspiring and provocative guide towards full-bodied living.

~ Jackie Bay, RN, LPC;
Eating disorder therapist for over 25 years

Hunger Speaks received the Evvy Award from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.

To View the Book on Amazon:   (CLICK HERE)

To Visit Carolyn Jenning's Website:  

Please see Information Below

Regarding How the Arts and Poetry Can Respond to People with Alzheimer's and Dementia -
or as Some Prefer to Say - "Forgetfulness"


To Learn More About the 5th International Conference on Creative Expression, Communication & Dementia:      (CLICK HERE)

To Learn More About Signs of Spring:  Haiku Poems by People with Dementia by Philomene Kocher & Marion Woodbridge:   

To Learn More About Making Poems with People with Dementia, Visit Dementia Positive with Kate Allan and John Killick:    (CLICK HERE)


Beyond Forgetting:
Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer's Disease

Edited by Holly J. Hughes

Beyond Forgetting
is a unique collection of poetry and short prose about Alzheimer's disease written by 100 contemporary writers - doctors, nurses, social workers, hospice workers, daughters, sons, wives and husbands - whose lives have been touched by the disease.  Through the transformative power of poetry, their words enable the reader to move "beyond forgetting," beyond the stereotypical portrayal of Alzheimer's disease to honor and affirm the dignity of those afflicted.

To Visit Beyond Forgetting's Website:          (CLICK HERE)

To View Ordering Information About Beyond Forgettingon Amazon:              (CLICK HERE)


To learn about a fully human, non-deficit model of responding to aging that includes the use of expressive arts, please visit the following links:


The Pacific Institute offers training to healthcare professionals that focus on humanistic and process-oriented models for working with people in need of care and support.

·Visit Pacific Institute's website:   (CLICK HERE)

·Visit Pacific Institute's Elder's Academy Presswebsite: (CLICK HERE)

·To learn more about a superb book, Deeper Into the Soul: Beyond Dementina and Alzheimer's Towards Forgetfulness Care,written by Nader Robert Shabahangi, Ph.D., founder of Pacific Institute, and co-author Bogna Szymkiewicz, Ph.D.:   (CLICK HERE)

·To learn more about the AgeSong Communities that embrace these models:     (CLICK HERE)


The Word Project:

Giving Voice to the Creative Spirit
Kernersville, North Carolina

Jacinta White,
Founder & Artistic Director

I met Jacinta White many years ago in Atlanta as The Word Project was beginning and have been very happy to see it evolve and blossom over that time. I have witnessed how Jacinta's poise and deep respect for people creates an environment within which healing and growth can occur. I want to share and recommend that work to people interested in The Institute for Poetic Medicine.

In the Spring of 2007, Jacinta and I co-presented Poems of Witness: Living with Heart in a Conflicted World at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, as a presentation of the School of Health and Human Performance and The Department of Public Health Education. 

Our workshop was designed to promote and encourage poem-making and sharing that shows the beauty and solace inherent in wrapping our heart's truth in words and images around the pain of dishonesty, injustice and the violations to our humanness.  We explored how deepening a connection with this awareness empowers us to treasure differences and stand together on common ground.

~ John Fox, CPT

Jacinta V. White is the founder and artistic director of The Word Project. A graduate in speech communications from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jacinta began her career as a public relations professional. She parlayed that skill with her love for the nonprofit sector and received her MPA in Nonprofit Management from Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. Before starting The Word Project (TWP) full time, Jacinta was involved with resource development and event planning with several nonprofits in the Atlanta area.

As director of TWP, Jacinta leads countless workshops; is called upon as keynote speaker for programs; and serves as the LifeVerse Poetry Project's co-director along with the Greensboro Public Library's Asst. Director, Steve Summerford. 

Currently, Jacinta resides in North Carolina, and is an active writer. She also keeps busy as the founder and board chairperson of The William M. White, Sr. Foundation, Inc.  Jacinta's works include: poetry in Press 53 Open Awards Anthology (2008) - in which she won first place for poetry; contributor to My Soul to His Spirit: Soulful Writings of African American Daughters to Their Fathers (SoulDictates, 2005); and editor of Walking With God (Duncan & Duncan, 1996).

Jacinta is currently working on certification through the National Association of Poetry Therapy.

(from The World Project Website)

To Visit Jacinta's Facebook Page:          (CLICK HERE)

To Visit The Word Project's Website:  (CLICK HERE)

Medicine Poetry, Origin of Song,
the Upwelling and the Hidden Word

Stephen & Ondrea Levine

Stephen and Ondrea Levine are now exploring what they call "Medicine Poetry, Origin of Song, the Upwelling and the Hidden Word." They were so helpful to me nearly thirty years ago at a criticial time in my life and key in my evolution towards pursuing this field and to practice it as I do, that I welcome these long-time friends and their contributions now to the healing and transformational power of poetry. Stephen, as a poet himself, with his deep immersion in Japanese haiku, Buddhist teachings and love for all sacred and contemplative traditions -- especially as expressed through the poetry of that tradition -- brings a particularly beautiful voice to all of this.  

To make it easy for the rocky mind
we say "illumination" and "vastness"
but there is not path when we are cured
of gravity and the idea of the body.

-- Stephen Levine
from "We are Cured"
Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace

Recommended for those who work with those who are
involved with hospice and any kind of awakening

Our focus now is on the subtle and sometime momentous healings of Medicine Poetry. The invocation of the heart that gives language to our inner experience. That brings to the surface our wisdom as well as grief, our courage, as well as fear. Insights and wounds sometimes too big to hold in our two hands. Giving a voice that can even diagnose the hidden traumas and wounds of previous injury that may block, like embolisms, the passage ways to the heart.   Breaking the negative attachment that holds our suffering in place. Reminding us of the vastness of our true nature. 

Stephen and Ondrea Levine
(from the Warm Rock Tapes web site)

To Visit Stephen & Ondrea's Warm Rock Tapes' Website:

To View Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace on Amazon:             (CLICK HERE)

Atl WC
Being There for Someone in Grief
by Marianna Cacciatore

Grief and loss are inevitable, a part of life's journey.  At one time we will need to midwife someone we love through their grief; at another time we will need to be held in ours - each taking turns loving, grieving, and holding each other along the way.  We learn to do this by doing it.  Being There for Someone in Grief is written for those who grieve and those who wish to walk beside someone who is grieving in a way that is welcomed, helpful, respectful, and kind.

Being There for Someone in Griefwill be available April 1. Orders can be placed now by CLICKING HEREThey will be signed by the author and shipped directly to you.

In ancient times, art was useful and it is said that souls intent on living would reach deep into their wound and bring the fire living there into the light.  Marianna Cacciatore is of this lineage.  She has been shaped early by loss and has lifted lessons out into the open.  All with clarity and love.  This humane and skillful weaving of story and insight offers immediate tools for anyone in the midst of grief or loving someone suffering through grief.

~ Mark Nepo, author of several books, including The Book of Awakening - Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have; Facing the Lion, Being the Lionand Surviving Has Made Me Crazy.

Marianna Cacciatore is an author living in the San Francisco Bay area.  She works privately - by phone and in person - with people on grief-related issues.  She speaks to audiences worldwide, and consults with organizations regarding grief support programs.  Marianna serves as Executive Director of Bread for the Journey, a national philanthropic organization dedicated to nurturing the seed of generosity in every human heart.

To Learn More About Bread for the Journey:  (CLICK HERE)

Writing the Sacred
with author, Ray McGinnis
May 14 (Fri) - May 16 (Sun), 2010

Kirkridge Retreat Center, 
2495 Fox Gap Road,
Bangor, PA 18013

Starts 6:30 p.m. Friday with Dinner
and ends with lunch on Sunday

Cost: $335

To Register:
Contact: 610-588-1793
or Visit:  www.kirkridge.org

Workshop Description:

The Hebrew Psalms express a raw and beautiful longing for God. The Psalms, as an early form of spiritual poetry, can be for us a living language, a poetic language vital for today, meeting us in all our humanness. Together with a wide range of poets including Hafez, Rilke, Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson and Leonard Cohen, Ray McGinnis leads you with a poet's eye into the zone that is your sacred center. Whether you keep a writing practice or have never put pen to paper, you are invited to infuse your spirituality with the artistry of poetry. Come explore the thin spaces where poetry and spirituality meet.

Ray McGinnis is author of Writing the Sacred. He has served as national staff for youth & young adult ministries in the United Church of Canada, and as program staff for the Naramata Centre for Continuing Educationin British Columbia, Canada. He is a member of the Advisory Board of The Institute for Poetic Medicinein Mountain View, California. Since 1999 he has taught across North America leading journal writing, poetry and nature walking workshops, prayer writing and Psalm/sacred poetry workshops. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

For More Information About Ray's Work, Please Visit His Website:        (CLICK HERE)

We invite you to enjoy a previous newsletter
featuring resources by:  CLICKING HERE


People building well in Tricon, Haiti, about 45 minutes north of Les Cayes
in the southern region of Haiti. Toussaint L'Overture board chairman, Jean-Jospeh Lexima, is wearing a bright blue shirt and a baseball cap. He stands behind the young man in the green shirt.

We wanted to follow up on our appeal for support of Haiti

sent via Diane Allerdyce and our friends at Toussaint L'Overture High School in Boynton Beach, Florida. 

While recovery needs of Haitian people remain intense, and their grief is beginning to surface more and more, your prayers and financial support made a tangible difference: purchase and delivery of a water pump and medical supplies are concrete ways donations were put to work.

Out of the devastation and heartbreaking loss, there is good news to
report.  Please savor these pictures and read a letter written by Diane Allerdyce:

Diane Allerdyce holds a water pump she purchased at Lowe's and brought in her suitcase to attach to the well that had already been drilled per the donation from Toussaint L'Overture High School.  She is standing with Wisnell, 22 years old.

Hi John,

You have also been on my mind very much, and your name is mentioned often at school, where we appreciate so much how you reached out after the earthquake. We received 5 checks totaling $250 from people who wrote Poetic Medicine on the card and/or memo line. Awesome!  Thank you so much.

Peter Faford, Project Director at the orphanage Espwa (Hope) Haiti, which serves 800-1000 children.  Toussaint L'Overture delivered baby formula, bandages and tools to the orphanage.  Peter is opening a box with Stanley, who lives at Espwa Haiti

On February 17th, I was part of a small team who traveled to Port au Prince and from there to Les Cayes, where our friend and associate
Jean-Joseph Lexima met us and facilitated our work. The trip was successful, and we have much work to do here and in Haiti. Before completing and dedicating a clean-water well to a beautiful group of people in Tricon on Saturday, 2/20/10, we had several productive meetings at Espwa Haiti in Les Cayes on Thursday and Friday. We were so happy to be able to bring several particular items that they had requested for their work there, including several cartons of medical supplies and baby formula that had been donated.

With the help of Missionary Aviation Fellowship as well as that of
Chris Acevedo of Crescent Heights, we have also been able to facilitate numerous medical personnel to travel back and forth on medical missions to the Port au Prince area.

It was a particular pleasure to honor the teachers when Jean
Lexima and I presented certificates to the 20+ teachers and
administrators who have participated in our 3-part training program so
far over the past year and a half. Our emphasis has been on critical
thinking, interactivity among students and teachers, and the
importance of supportive teaching/professional community-building for these committed professors, whose vocation is so much more than a job; it is a calling!

Port au Prince was devastating and yet full of hopeful, positive
people. We look forward very much to returning -- tentatively the last
week in March (spring break) -- to continue working toward building the sustainable communities Haiti deserves. Please let me know if you are interested in traveling over spring break.
We have a particular request for Kreyol speaking grief counselors at
Espwa Haiti.
Best wishes,
(Diane Allerdyce, PhD
Chief Academic Officer/CoFounder
Toussaint L'Ouverture High School for Arts & Social Justice)

To Visit Touissaint L'Ouverture's Website:  (CLICK HERE)

Note:  Diane recently wrote the following note to John:

I have begun work on an edited collection of poems, to be presented in English and Haitian Kreyol, that will speak to this tremendous loss and sorrow experienced in the earthquake and the great spirit of the Haitian people to persist and thrive.  I have started collecting these poems after the earthquake and I would want to involve a Kreyol expert such as my friend, the linguist, Dr. Gerard Ferere.

Please...  Share this Constant Contact
With Family, Friends, and Co-Workers
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It is my pleasure to design and send these Constant Contact communications to you.  As a hospice grief counselor, my pilgrimage is one of deep listening with the ears of my heart.  I offer poetry as sweet balm for the shattered places... the opening spaces.

With Gratitude for the Journey,

Melissa Layer, Port Townsend, WA

The Institute for Poetic Medicine is a tax deductible nonprofit 501(c)3.

Please advance our mission
to "awaken soulfulness in
the human voice"

by sending a check to:

The Institute for Poetic Medicine
P. O. Box 60189
                                         Palo Alto, CA  94306
                                        Attn: John Fox

                                       Thank you!