To Awaken Soulfulness in the Human Voice
THE INSTITUTE FOR
None of us is unaffected. Hearing is healing.
In life, finding a voice is speaking and living the truth. Each of you is an original. Each of you has a distinctive voice. When you find it, your story will be told. You will be heard.”
—John Grisham, legal thriller writer, has summed up what we feel happens every two weeks in two hours at 2100.
IPM Partner: Annie Holden
2100 Lakeside Men's Shelter
Employment Specialist and Job Readiness Instructor at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, as well as volunteer poetry facilitator of Finding Voice Poetry Workshop at 2100 Lakeside Men’s Emergency Homeless Shelter (also an agency of LMM). She teaches job readiness skills to classes of adults who have been incarcerated, homeless or in a cycle of poverty. Annie has received funding from IPM twice for poetry projects conducted at the shelter and in the community.
Finding Voice — Overview
Introduce poems for discussion, encourage poetry writing, sharing of ideas and poems. Publish poems produced in the workshop setting.
A community poetry program to introduce men who are homeless to people who are not through poem-making (2014). This project follows at previously funded program in 2013 that was dedicated to the men at 2100 Lakeside Emergency Homeless Shelter and citizens of Greater Cleveland.
Purpose and Goals
Bring together a group of people willing to use poetry as a means to explore their experience and listen to one another. This group will be comprised of those who are currently homeless and those who have homes that they are living in.
Primary goal is to illuminate the commonality of the human experience by reading and writing and sharing poems through a regular workshop program of 7 weeks. Further, we hope to create a dialogue about what it means to live in community.
Final poems selected by the group will be printed and made into mounted posters to be displayed throughout the shelter and other locations around the city and suburbs, for example, libraries, community centers, schools, Boys & Girls Club locations, galleries, etc.
Reading at area bookstore, Cleveland Public Library open mic poetry event or other location.
The Place Where We Begin (2012) by Annie Holden
It is a small band of us involved in conducting poetry workshops at a local men's shelter in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. A fledgling enterprise, we are learning how to choose poems and how to help varying groups of men engage with the material and each other.
It is an activity loaded with surprise, possibility and wonder. As John Fox's poetry workshops have taught me before - never underestimate the power of words and those who give them voice.
2100 Lakeside is the largest men's shelter between New York City and Chicago. At first glance, it is a maze of hallways and doorways. I felt I needed breadcrumbs to find my way back to the entrance! Cinder block walls are covered in brightly colored posters and flyers direct men to workshops, activities, events. Belying the institutional look is the warmth of the residents and staff.
Everyone greets us, offers to help carry bags, give us directions. We feel welcomed.
Recently we've begun the habit of touring the facility and personally inviting the men we meet to the workshops. Gathering in the cafeteria during the lunch breaks and talking to men at each table has also proven effective. We try to reach out to every resident.
Our group has doubled in size from the first spring session last May - from 14 to 28 participants so far. Because the nature of the facility is to move men on to independence, we cannot count on seeing the same participants from session to session.
We make the very most of our time together and that seems to bring a kind of spirit, imperative and passion to the room because we know that we may not pass this way again.
Words You Can Live In
In a recent session, we worked on the poem Words So Large by Susan Windle.
Words So Large
There are words so large
you can live in them.
Isn't it a comfort to know
is not the biggest thing?
Always, always, if you listen,
a sound will form
around your fragile life.
You can move and breathe
within the dark, expansive
walls of this word.
You can feed
on the juice of its sound.
We asked for words in response to Windle’s poem. The following words were spoken out loud by the men and written on a dry erase board:
Hate, miracles, individual, philosophy, overwhelming, inspiring, overcome, humble, power, resistance, no, fragile, please, together, independence, believe, freedom, faith, hero, desire, lies, enjoy, perception, miracles, influence, escape, homelessness, peace, money, mobility, compassion, oppression, balance, perspective, respect, nurturing, unconditional, joy, if, midnight, retaliation, but, mistakes, space, love, change, permanent, truth.
The men were then invited to write their own poems based on these words.
It's a word that was not
mentioned in this session. We all
know it, the word is depression.
I do live and move in its sound,
The sound I hear is the sound
of a dirge.
Responsibility thick overwhelming
overcome Hate no lies
believe Freedom faith peace miracles
together please enjoy Love
escape homelessness oppression mistakes
In retaliation of the darkness at midnight
The sun brought us joy with its light.
In our fragility of the darkness at midnight
The sun brought us the freedom of sight.
In the oppression of the darkness at midnight
The sun brought us the desire to fight.
And with influence of the sun's miraculous might
There was no more fear in the darkness at midnight.
In the last few minutes of the workshop, a man raised his hand and asked, "What does this have to do with recovery?" We learned, to our chagrin, that some of the men had been "required" to attend by their group leader and this man had assumed that the workshop was specifically related to his recovery process.
Before we could collect ourselves to respond, a previous participant, Kenny, pointed to the dry erase board in the front of the room and said emphatically, "Every word on that board has to do with recovery, man."
We couldn't have wished for a more perfect response.
Kindred Spirits with Various Gifts and Skills
Three of us formed the nucleus of Finding Voice (a name brainstormed at our first meeting...after all, aren't we all seeking our inner voice?). We were students of John Fox, as workshop participants. He brought me (and others!) to the shelter in late May of 2009 where we were scribes in his one-day poetry program. We were so profoundly moved by the experience that we agreed on the spot to continue poetry writing at the shelter on bi-monthly basis.
The Institute for Poetic Medicine with support from the Kalliopeia Foundation provides funding for our program. We are a combination of volunteers and funded facilitators. Some funding goes toward refreshments and snacks for the men -- an important element!
Who are we and how did we begin?
Julie, a part-time children's therapist; Jack, a retired pastor, and I, a recently unemployed bookstore manager, and lover of words, met several times to formulate our approach. At a downtown café, we took turns reading poems aloud to each other and discussed their viability for homeless men.
The biggest challenge was to choose poetry that would relate to the men's experiences, and at the same time challenge them, interest them, bring them fresh perspectives and ideally some solace. A tall order-- and where to start?
There is a vast ocean of poetry available and we could drown in it, but we discovered that everyone has favorite poets and a treasure-trove of poems stored up so that's where we started, with the assistance of a collection of poetry John had assembled for some of his workshops.
We next added to the group a woman experienced in teaching English in diverse settings, who has a profound love and knowledge of poetry. Martha started as a scribe, but quickly became instrumental in the process of selecting works and providing dynamic exercises to draw the men more easily into the process of writing. Martha introduced the concept of choral reading which has been very powerful. And Eileen, an art therapist and nurse, and keen observer and thoughtful commentator, rounds out the group at five.
I Know Exactly How You Feel, Man
Like tightrope walkers, we approach the process with caution and care to find the "right" poems for this special group of men. On one hand, it is easy enough to find poems about loneliness, suffering, and hardship and we felt it was important to acknowledge this aspect of their lives and yet, we also wanted to explore imaginative, hope-filled, creative possibilities with them.
Self-esteem is a thorny issue. In the case of men at low points in their lives, being homeless, frequently jobless, mostly without family or friends nearby, to provide a forum for speaking and listening to each other was our main objective.
We have set few restrictions for ourselves on the poetry we review for presentation to the men. We do not let age, gender, historical period, or nationality determine what we select. We try to keep them a manageable length, never more than a page. So far we've used the poems of Rumi, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, a third grader, Langston Hughes, teenage boys, Mary Oliver, Carl Sandburg, Denise Levertov, Susan Windle and William Stafford, very successfully.
The "class" is diverse-in age, birthplace, race, education, religion, life experience. I am surprised by the number of young men who show up, somehow expecting only middle-aged and older men to be homeless. Veterans from the Vietnam War and the Gulf War attend. Many parts of the country are represented, especially the deep South.
A few are regular writers and have poems committed to memory. There are those who deeply and quickly engage. Some sit quietly and only observe, never saying a word, but may take with them the copies of the poems we've provided.
At our first workshop, I witnessed a man who stated at the start that he wasn't the type to share or reveal himself but wanted to see what the workshop was like. Midway through the morning, he not only shared a poem he had written but broke down during his reading of it. Immediately, another man in the room responded with words like "I know exactly how you feel, man. I hear you. I got nobody too."
The connection was instantaneous and profound. Everyone in the room sat silent and full of feeling. For men who may have nothing else in their lives for the moment, the importance of communication provides a connection. In the words of Czeslaw Milosz "Language is the only homeland." The workshop men speak and are heard. This is the heart of the process.
Kevin is a young man who has been writing since he was 12. When we introduced Carl Sandburg's poem, Wilderness, we spent time talking about animals and how they can represent feelings and then invited the men to write poems about animals they personally identified with.
Writing in a New Voice, Talking to Grief, Don’t Ever Give Up on Living
Kevin wrote the following poem and was very excited by the experience of writing in a new voice. He declared that all of his previous writing had been in the first person because he was mainly journaling and writing poems about his feelings and hadn't tried writing from an "outside perspective".
I am the leopard
I am the leopard
Walking on the grass
With soft paws
Smelling the smells with my nose
Managing the sounds with my pointing ears
With my spots you can tell my years.
I am the leopard
Hiding in the trees in the daylight
Biding my time for the night light
Staying away from the prying eyes
They say I'm soft but they're telling lies.
I am the leopard
Roaming free by myself
I must take my feed high in the trees
For the bigger cats will not climb towards the leaves
Hiding in the forest they could be worse.
I am the leopard
My coat is salt and pepper
Teeth and tongue even as a cub
I've clawed and purred with soft fur
I could be cute or I could be a brute
Only time will tell and bear fruit.
In a recent workshop, we began with Denise Levertov's Talking to Grief in which she describes grief as a stray dog. It so immediately resonated with the group that the men shared their interpretations, reactions and feelings for an hour without pause. Using a dry erase board at the front of the room, Martha recorded phrases and ideas the men voiced. For example:
It = a life lesson.
What = lurking under your porch. Grief? Or...
Being alone, feeling rejected. Could be invisible but someone opened the door for me.
People come to me and it leads to a transformation, acceptance.
I think I am walking and no one sees me then maybe someone discovers me.
Since we cannot predict what will invite deep interest, nor for how long, we plan each session with what we hope are enough poems and writing activities for each of the two hours set aside for the workshop, then open ourselves up to whatever transpires. We have spent over an hour on one poem, and, other times, three poems in one hour. We carefully follow the flow of discussion so that we are appropriately responsive to the men. Our efforts focus on the most valuable use of the time at hand and our goal is meaningful, lively discussion. But it has become quite clear that we are only catalysts to the process of homeless men listening and responding to each other.
The mutual respect that they exhibit towards each other is extraordinarily beautiful. As Martha astutely observed following a recent workshop:
"Sometimes-actually, quite often-I wonder what it is we do in that place and space. I truly do not believe that it is anything we DO. Rather it is something that we try to set-up, scaffold, allow.”
A poem from Daryl, a participant:
We all have bad days, and we wonder how
We're going to make it through;
Well it starts with not what you say,
But with what you do.
So don't sit and drown in your own sorrow
And feeling blue.
Because no matter how worthless or
Meaningless we think our life is-there's always
Someone out there that needs you.
So don't ever give up on living.
Put down that gun and put down that knife
Because you can still save yourself along
With someone else's life.
Being Present with Each Other
There is nothing more profound than being in a "safe place" where judgments are not passed and one's thoughts and feelings can be expressed openly. It is not meant to be a classroom situation and we restate that at the beginning of each workshop. Our sole purpose is to explore, share and be present with each other.
It seems simple enough and yet the turbulence and instability of everyday life, and for homeless men in particular, rarely permit such moments.
As Rita Dove has observed: "By making us stop for a moment, poetry gives us an opportunity to think about ourselves as human beings on this planet and what we mean to each other." How frequent are the opportunities to be heard? Unfortunately, this is all too rare. Our mission as Finding Voice is to provide a forum where homeless men can express themselves and be heard.
One Year Later
It’s been a year of reading, writing, sharing and discussing poetry at 2100 Lakeside Avenue Men’s Homeless Shelter. Finding Voice or “the Poetry Ladies” as we are more often referred to, has built a niche, a following, in the large cement block compound in downtown Cleveland. What has evolved is an oasis, a sacred space, where words are written, spoken and acknowledged. The key to the whole process is listening-- deep, thoughtful, soulful listening.
Because each of us involved with the process is so passionate about it, we have created a “safe haven” where the men come to relax, learn and share freely. We work together intuitively and set the tone for the next two hours. Respect is an essential ingredient and it is palpable in the room. Even when the discussion gets heated, the men are usually careful about letting each have his say. Because everyone is totally committed to the process, it works on a deep level. That is key to its success.
We have learned to relax a bit and trust the process more completely. Expanding the repertoire of poems used in the workshops, we’ve experimented with Neruda, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lucille Clifton, Hafiz and Rumi, Elizabeth Bishop, Stevie Smith. The men trust and respect us and respond willingly.
We’ve also adjusted to the fact that each group has some repeat participants and a new crop of faces. The “regulars” help guide the new folks (e.g. we have the “rule of two” which is that all writing has to be read twice and our repeat writers remind the new men of this in a humorous, supportive way). They help pave the way to the sense of trust, mutual respect and safety in the room.
A workshop rarely ends without someone commenting on the enjoyment and value of the two hours he has just spent in the company of the women and his peers. And we all nod in agreement. We’ve all experienced something new as well as a heightened sense of awareness of the world around us.
John Grisham, legal thriller writer, has summed up what we feel happens every two weeks in two hours at 2100. He said “In life, finding a voice is speaking and living the truth. Each of you is an original. Each of you has a distinctive voice. When you find it, your story will be told. You will be heard.” None of us is unaffected. Hearing is healing. — Report by Annie Holden
Follow-up report and participants poetry:
8 months later—JUNE 2009-OCTOBER 2010
We have conducted poetry workshops for the past 18 months with the residents of 2100 Lakeside Men’s Emergency Shelter and we are haunted by the voices and faces of the many men who have participated. Young men with wiry bodies; old men missing teeth; men with elaborate tattoos, long hair, shaven heads, some wearing suits and ties, others t-shirts and sweats, using canes, walkers, wheelchairs, with hacking coughs, prison records, too much street life. Some are guided by their faith, others not. Most are ready to engage, put their feelings on paper, listen to each other, even laugh at the absurdities life presents, and be moved.
Whether the first time or the 30th, the group that has gathered, seems to respond openly and feeling-fully to the material. Listening is palpable. Mutual support strongly evident. These men are mostly passing through the shelter system but while they are residents, they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities to make changes in their lives. At least the ones who show up for poetry demonstrate an unfailing ability to give themselves over to the process of exploration and soul-searching, no matter what poems we “bring to the table.” Poetry always takes us there.
Last November we did a session on listening using Rumi’s poem, Listening, and John Fox’s When Someone Deeply Listens to You. The discussion was ripe with observations: “Listening is felt---you can’t tell the giver from the receiver.” And Johnny who said, “When you really listen, they are telling your story too.” One of the other participants contributed, “Listening is hard, but it’s important to be heard.” And someone else spoke these words that elevated the workshop to another level, “Silence is a liability but when you ‘get it out’ it turns into an asset.”
In December 2009 we presented the poem Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye. A quality that can be sadly lacking in our current society, it is especially precious in the homeless world. Tiny acts of kindness, saying “please” and “thank you” or getting a smile from a stranger, are not taken lightly. Her poem guides us to consider acts of kindness in a deeper way. One man commented: “(I) see hope in this poem. Didn’t know kindness until I came to this place. This place is kindness.” “Whatever you can fit into a bag, man. Starting over. Appreciating what you had before. Helps to get out of yourself. Finding your life again---.” This is the vantage point of a homeless man, and the advantage of the poetry process is that it provides a safe zone where these observations are welcomed and respectfully shared.
Ray, who was one of our regulars for many months until he got his own housing, responded to Nye’s poem about kindness with the following:
In my heart, I know the game of waiting
will be won.
The time it takes to accomplish this has me nearly undone.
It seems that the people around me are like
They ask who, when, where & how.
Reporters they should be or maybe not.
I’ve learned that what we want is not
on a timetable and a timetable can seem
to be never ending.
So I’ll tough it out.
Try to be polite to the who, when, where & how’s
and know the waiting game
is almost won.
The selection of poets we’ve presented continues to be diverse—Anne Sexton, Charles Bukowski, Amiri Baraka, William Stafford, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Stevie Smith, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, Wendell Berry, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, prison poets from San Quentin, Maya Angelou, Rumi, Hafiz, John Fox. And still, we’ve barely scratched the surface.
We did a session that included the poem, Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon that starts out, “I’m from clothespins and Clorox…” and continues with a litany of objects, tastes, people, occasions that defined the poet’s life. Chuck’s own version is included here. His poem tells the story of many who have passed through our workshop.
I’m from my real parents weren’t there
I’m from grandparents who care
I’m from the 6th grade playing with Wendy’s hair
I’m from smoking at the Roller Rink
By the Mortal Combat machine
I’m from Friday night football
And making out at McD’s
I’m from Bent Bill baseball caps
I’m from driving a Vega
I’m from hitchhiking too high
Can’t find the keys
I’m from being scared in the Marines
Fighting over there
I’m from coming home addicted
Pissed off, don’t care
I’m from going to prison
Screaming “man, I wasn’t there”
I’m from, man, I’m tired of this
Is there someone who cares?
Something we have noticed over a period of time, the men do not seem to alter their attention or responses depending on who is in the room. The quorum of leaders— Martha, Julie, Jack, and I have attended, in various combinations, from the beginning, but we also invite or are visited by others from the community. We have had college students, elderly people, a newspaper reporter, staff members from the shelter, join one session or more and as long as they sit at the table, whether they join in the discussion and the writing process or not, they are accepted matter-of-factly and essentially without notice.
We make an announcement, introduce a “newcomer” to the group and s/he is immediately subsumed into the class. After so many sessions with changing groups of men, it remains consistently so. I do not understand why this happens, but it does. Perhaps it is the combination of “safe space” and the creativity that poetry draws on that works its magic in the supportive environment of 2100 Lakeside under the auspices of Lydia, Volunteer Coordinator, and Michael, Director.
We have also been approached by local organizations and institutions that are interested in our process and want to be involved. John Carroll University is committed to social service and builds it into their curriculum. They have discussed with us the possibility of sending students into our group to observe and participate and earn college credit in their course “Poverty in American Literature.” A local private girls’ school, Hathaway Brown, has also approached the shelter to explore ways to become involved in the literary programs (book club, poetry, creative writing/journaling) the shelter now offers. These are exciting and important connections to the community that we would like to foster and grow in a manner that most benefits the residents of 2100.
Observation by Julie Michelson, one of Finding Voice’s founding members
“Every other week since a year ago May, five of us gather to experience poetry reading and writing at 2100 Lakeside. It never ceases to amaze me—and we often collectively marvel—at how much ‘flow’ as ALL experience in this two hour session. It seems that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, because each poetry session, no matter who leads it, or who selects the poems to share and discuss, produces a rich dialogue of issues, and elicits a rich array of personal responses to the poetry. Lucky we are, that one of our members is archiving all of these writings, in a plan to eventually publish them.
The stories and the poems can have terrible ‘gravitas’ and still elicit deep responses from the men. A few weeks ago, I chose a poem filled with pathos and was afraid it was too horrible to share, as it was written by a young Jewish Hungarian poet who was held prisoner for five years and finally shot in a forced march as Hitler’s army retreated from the Russian advance. The responses were elevating. When the men discovered that the poet’s wife found fragments of his poetry in his overcoat pocket after he was exhumed from the mass grave, they cheered that his ‘voice’ lived on! They saw him as victorious, even over the most heinous of governments.
Somehow poetry touches upon the deepest human questions, and the dialogue that ensues from just a few select poems, is satisfying, it seems, to all of us. In the last session, the theme that ran through the poems was ‘home’. Many a rich memory got excavated and shared. The authenticity of the conversations connects us each with our profound humanness. I am one of the lucky beneficiaries of this bi-monthly endeavor!!”
Langston Hughes’ poems elicit deep responses and we’ve used many of his and sometimes repeated them because they are so powerfully resonant. In response to his Still Here in which he describes his ability to survive despite the odds heavily against him, Damone, took the opposite approach…
I’m tired of the laws of the land, unjust
I’m tired of people with power abusing their power
I’m tired of people just want to get by and not
using their God given strengths.
I’m tired of big corporations not being honest
and still wanting more and more and not sharing
I’m tired of the criminal system not being truly fair.
I’m tired of drug programs treating me like a crack head
When I just smoke marijuana.
I’m tired of false advertising saying this works when
they know it doesn’t
I’m tired of drug companies saying do you
have this problem we can help you, then later, if you
have tried this drug you may have health problems or
you could die.
I would finish this story but..
I’m just tired.
Damone’s poem drew raucous applause and heartfelt agreement in the room. It was a unifying moment!
On the other hand, last winter a painful poem read by Rob, a young man who had been coming to Finding Voice over a few months, inexplicably inspired laughter from some of the men. The leaders in the room were shocked and dismayed by the response until we learned the reason. Here is Rob’s poem,
Wanting Some Sleep Tonight
All isn’t well
All isn’t right
Will I fall asleep tonight
with one eye open
Worrying if I will rise up
with the morning sun.
Sounds of pain fill the night
Man, am I afraid to fall asleep tonight.
Been up for 2 straight days.
Wandering around in this haze
What I have done in these 2 days.
Lord do I need your praise.
Screams fill the night
As I lay here in fright
Wondering if I’ll make it through the night
Lord please watch over me as I sleep tonight.
Before Rob had even finished reading his poem, there was laughter. When asked what was humorous about a poem describing fear and sleeplessness (and we were united in defending Rob’s vulnerability in that room), an older African-American resident replied, “Hey, we ALL feel that way in here, just nobody says it out loud.” There followed a lively discussion of conditions in the shelter in the late hours when the emergency men have bedded down for the night. It became a special moment—when these men could let down their defenses in front of us. Although we take seriously our charge to defend the safety of each participant, in this case we learned that there are so many levels to the way a poem evokes feelings.
Lynne, a recent college graduate who attends the poetry sessions and also started art sessions of her own at the shelter, had this to say about her experiences in Finding Voice…
On August 13, 2010, we read a poem about leaving home and returning to find that everything has changed. The writer reflects on his boyhood in his hometown. One man commented, “If he leaves, he becomes a part of the past.”
Also on August 13th, we read a poem about two brothers in foster care moving from home to home and seeking stability and intimacy. The older brother looks after the younger, and a man in the group cited the Bible, referring to Cain’s statement, “I am my brother’s keeper.”
During a session in July we talked at length about the problems of diagnoses and the importance of sharing ourselves with others. We read a poem about sorrow and grief. The men had many profound statements to share. One stated emphatically, “Diagnosing dehumanizes people.” We all agreed.
Another examined the problem of self-absorption and stated, “You can’t get anywhere until you lose your ego.” After reading the poem on grief, a man nodded and responded, “You have to absorb the sorrow so you can move on.” Another continued, “A lot of people don’t know how to share their sorrows and can’t escape from within themselves.” We spoke of the beauty of sharing ourselves and sharing our stories. William decided, “Sharing ourselves is an act of kindness.” Finally, we spoke of the power of love. The men all agreed. One stated, “Love conquers hate and sorrow.”
In addition to the powerful emotions that are evoked during the reading and writing of the poems, we can also get a belly laugh out of the absurd or comical moments in life. During our first year anniversary session, we read through a dozen poems written by men earlier in the year and also re-celebrated John Fox’s listening poem since it has been the catalyst to the whole endeavor. Apropos of nothing, Edward wrote and read a poem about his driving experiences and brought the house down. We made him read it a third time (instead of the usual twice) because it was so darkly hilarious.
Racing in my City
Now, a car is like a gun.
Use it wrong, and you’ll kill someone.
Doing 80 on 480 or 90 on 90.
Get out of my way! Thank you kindly.
When I wreck a car, it’s a total loss.
I just get another, at a cheap cost.
Drinking and driving in the snow is the best.
Slipping and sliding, just like the rest.
Losing that cop sure was fun.
Thank God, I didn’t have my gun.
I slowed down when I got my truck.
I got tired of pressing my luck.
For 15 years I drove with no license.
Now I have a permit, with no devices.
Please drive carefully, listen to my cry.
Because when I drive, it’s a license to fly!
Jack Shierloh, a founding member of Finding Voice and a professional “listener” at the shelter on a regular basis, wrote a poem about his experience in the process.
John Fox’s friend Tim Tuthill M.D. said: “If you listen to your patients they will tell you what’s wrong.”
So it was yesterday
Annie, Martha presenting a powerful poem
Where the objects of a farm house and yard
Commented on the various residents who
had lived there over the years
Then the men and Lynne from the back seat
Read their own poetry
Annie and Martha listened very carefully
The men revealed very deep things about
Annie, Martha and Lynne did a great job
How can great poetry read and thought about
Then people writing their own poetry
Help people get new insights about
I don’t know
But it happens again and again
I am amazed every time and grateful.
John has been a regular attendee and sensitive writer for months. His writing always strikes a chord in the room. There is a commonality of his experience with other men in residence. An example of his work from August 2010…
An Open Road
Down a long path
I see no end
I listen to the advice
over the time
that I’ve spent
and around every corner
For the answer I seek
Never finding what I seek
The tears I cried
The blood I shed
The sweat of my journey
leads me here
The deep inner depression
amongst the words
Hoping that I touch
the inner soul
Making you feel
what I’ve seen
As I speak what I wrote
Upon my path
An open road
Endless at last
I close my eyes
Rest my head
For my journey end
is here within
I still haven’t found
the answers I seek
among the endless stirs
sitting in the chairs
Barry, a veteran who lost his wife to suicide last Christmas season, has been writing to keep himself alive. When he arrived at the workshop in August and told us his tragic story of loss and PTSD, he explained that he didn’t know why he was still alive but somehow had started writing and immediately shared some of his work. We were stunned silent.
There are things you know
And will always know.
There are things you don’t know
And will never know.
Between this is a door.
Is this the door of perception
I hope that I find what I’m reaching for
The way that it is in my mind
Some day I’ll get over you
I’ll live to see it all through
But I’ll always miss
Dreaming my dreams with you.
In my own way I’m a believer
In my own way, right or wrong
I don’t talk too much about it
It’s something I keep working on
I don’t have much to build on
Just a faith that’s never been that strong.
I’ve lived my life in chains
To find I’ve had the key
Or has the key had me.
We are working with men who have endured significant loss, deprivation, fear, shame, regret, confusion, addiction and cruelty. They are anxious for change, respect, kindness and consideration and are full of plans for brighter futures. After a year and a half, the Finding Voice Poetry Workshops have not lost their luster.
The experience of revealing ourselves by reading, writing and discussing poetry is eminently renewable, life-affirming. William, Barry, John, Chuck, Johnny and Ray, along with many others (around 350) have expressed their pain but also their feelings of endurance, hope and the possibilities of change over the 60+ hours of the bi-weekly program. There are unknown riches yet to be mined. We of Finding Voice remain poised to delve deep with our men of 2100 into the future through poetry.
IPM partner since 2010
A few years ago we were proud to support Annie Holden in Cleveland, Ohio as she brought poem-making to the men of 2100 Lakeside. The IPM funding for the 2100 Lakeside projetct had a beginning, middle and end, but because she was so moved to work with these men at the homeless shelter, Annie applied for a Vista grant and upon receiving that stipend, continued to bring poetry and poem-making to the men of 2100 Lakeside.
If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the anthology Finding Voice, please send your request to:
The cost of the anthology is $10 plus $2.50 for postage and package. All proceeds benefit the homeless shelter.
© 2006-2016 The Institute for Poetic Medicine and John Fox