Part I: Defining Poetry Therapy
When we set down to write poetry, prose, or to journal, we almost always have some sort of emotional intent. Unfortunately, when we take poetry and place it in an academic setting to study "poetics" or "therapy" as disciplines, I think we end up with a paradigm of deconstruction and ultimately competition -- competition of teacher vs. student, student vs. student, school program vs. school program, etc.. It's just part of the flaw of the education system as it currently exists. This is not to say that we can't choose to revise our work, or learn to write in forms, or learn to hone our craft to write the best, most poingnant poetry we can. But it is to say that sometimes in that type setting where we are working-the-craft or encountering competitive spirit, most often, we lose the emotional intent of the poetry we first wrote.
With that said, I think that there are two ways to look at Poetry Therapy.
If you are a poet and you are studying in an academic setting to get your therapy certificate or some other degree, then you just simply go into it knowing that this setting is about deconstruction (sometimes reconstruction, as well) and that there are lots of competitive pitfalls along the way. It's part of the paradigm of that world, and you learn to play by those rules if you want to successfully make your way there.
However, after you are done with the degree and are working with real people again, then it is time to be human once more. And if you are a poet who is using creativity for healing or if you are a person in crisis who has found a haven in poetry, *then* we are talking about poetry therapy at work in the face of our everyday lives. We are talking about emotional intent. We are talking about healing and wholeness, about grief and loss, about the real issues we face each and every day.
And *this* is the kind of Poetry Therapy I wish to continue addressing in this column -- examining the everyday uses of poetry for our individual and collective journeys through life, the healing that comes when we practice creativity everyday, the full expression of *every* emotion which means an acceptance of the good, the bad, the ugly, the joyful, the sad, the long-term, and more!
And so why am I spelling all this out for you here?
Well, we have all kinds of readers to this column. We get the academics who want more, more, more on the research and notation side, the deconstruction and reference materials. We get writers and healing practioners to seem to enjoy the ideas and exercises offered. We get bereaved parents and others in crisis who find some tools for reclaiming the ground that has been set to shaking under their feet. And all are welcome. Take what works for you and ignore what doesn't. And if you come here and find that something is missing or your don't like what you read here, then by all means, head out on your own to do your own research and deconstruction! Find what you need for you -- my practice and application of Poetry Therapy came very organically after the death of my son. And I am not interested in any more academics. I am interested in the everyday, life and death, creative tools for all things. And that is what you will find here.
Part II: Coping with the Holidays
All of the above said, I'd like to talk a little this time about the everyday uses of poetry and creative for healing during the holidays.
If you've read any of my works before this, you probably know that I come to almost everything with the perspective of a bereaved parent and as a family advocate. So, too, I address the holidays with a grief & healing tint because I know that these times are most difficult for bereaved parents. Family gatherings bring children close to the age your child should have been had he or she not died. Gift exchanges bring cards or stockings with all the children's names in glitter glue, sparkling, and honored. But there isn't any recognition of your dead child's life or death. And your parenthood is entirely silenced.
Well, I whole-heartedly encourage all of you who are missing a loved one this holiday season to stop accepting that silence!!!! You have every right to say your child's name, to admit you miss them terribly, to make gift donations in their honor and memory. This goes for anyone whose spouse or parent or brother or sister or friend has died! Anyone who misses a loved one is going to have twangs of grief during the holidays, and it is time that we take responsibility for the grief and give it voice -- even in situations where others are trying desperately to shut us up!!!
How do we do this? There are so many options. I will advocate in this article for some of the options that involve writing and poetry.
If there are stockings hung for your holiday celebration, hang one with your child's name on it, too. Ask family members to write letters to your child or memories of your child's life. Fold up those writings and fill that stocking with the papers. Either give voice to the grief by reading those writings outloud later, or simply present the stocking to the bereaved parent at gift exchange time so that their child might be remembered and honored!! It is soooo simple!
If there are candle-lightings involved with your holiday celebration, add a prayer or special time as you light the candle or in the time just after the lighting to remember the dead child. Ask family members to take turns writing poems in memory and honor of the child, and then have each person read as each candle is lit throughout the season. Simple!
If there is singing involved with your holiday celebrations, ask the bereaved parent which song the dead child liked best. Then sing that song at circle time! Take a moment before the singing to acknowledge that this song is was picked because it was the child's favorite.
If there is letter writing for your holiday -- you know, a holiday letter that goes out to your whole family and mailing list -- then use that letter to tell everyone how much you are thinking of your child and how much you miss them. AND tell people how they can help you!! If you want to talk about your child, or say a special prayer at the holiday dinner, or have people remember your child somehow, TELL THEM in your holiday letter. We are responsible for giving voice to what we need. If the reader chooses to ignore the fact that we've asked for help or if they choose to tell us we are crazy, you know what???? That is THEIR problem, not ours. We are are asking for help to get through the holidays with support and honor -- there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!!!
If there is a card exchange in your celebrations, be sure to include your child in the signing of the card. Have your family members sign, then you add a line that says something like, "In honor & memory of our beloved child..." or something! If you are printing custom cards, find an angel graphic (if you believe in angels) and have that graphic printed in the corner of the card with the text next to it that remembers your child. You have FULL PERMISSION to send cards from your ENTIRE family -- your child may be dead, but he or she is still on your family tree!
These are just a few writing therapy ideas for coping with the holidays and communicating with extended family about where you are with your grief and healing. We are also offering other ideas and resources in our Loss Journal this month, too. Feel free to take a look there, too.
Have courage. Give voice to your reality. You are not crazy.