Poetry as Medicine

John Fox is a wordsmith, a bard on the ancient trail of the song and the poem. His 1997 book Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making reflects on the power of words to invoke healing and wholeness in our lives. Fox spoke about poetry as medicine Tuesday, April 14, at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café , with more than 30 fans present.

“Listening is at the core of what I do. … Listening deeply is a master key that allows a person’s creativity to flourish,” Fox said in response to a question about a poem he shared: “When Somebody Deeply Listens to You.”

Fox, a certified poetry therapist, author and poet, regularly gives poetry readings and workshops in hospices, bookstores, medical clinics and beyond in an attempt to liberate our creative, healing muse. His organization, The Institute for Poetic Medicine, is a collection of poets, physicians and friends of the word who are bringing poetic expression into respectability within medical circles. Poem-making can bring us to a deeper place within, a place where we are not merely a product of genetic inevitability or psychological development, says Fox. In our poems we can discover something that medicine often reduces and discounts — the soul.

Fox invites people to rediscover the poet within — the uncensored voice of passion and aliveness that often lies dormant within us for years. In his experience, many of us have not been in touch with our inner poet since grade school, if at all. “The inner poet is the youngest part of me,” he said. Tapping that voice is not as hard as it might seem, Fox continued, especially in the comfort and community of one of the many workshops he provides.

He notices that when we allow our unique voices to be heard, we often hear beyond the common judgments and critique that our own minds tend to impose on our creative self. Allowing others to hear our writing is a way to see something in it we might not have seen — to discover hidden gems and clues to a deeper, soulful life. His first book, Finding What You Didn’t Lose, Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making is a practical, soulful manifesto for tapping the creative self.

Fox makes a distinction between healing and curing and believes that the inclusion of the expressive arts within healthcare is a foundational way to help us find ourselves and not forget the central importance of healing: to recognize and amplify wholeness.
His work demonstrates how the poetry written by children and
young people within the hospital setting reminds us to give room and caring consideration to a child’s presence and to their creative voice through poetry. “A child is an empowered partner in their own healing and becomes far more than a diagnosis,” Fox says. “He or she is a treasured person to all those who are charged with their care.”

During the Malaprop’s reading, Fox mentioned that local physician Bruce Kelly is helping to get Fox’s methods of using poetry to heal into the Asheville VA hospital — one of the many signs that his work is taking root in mainstream medical venues.

To learn more about Fox and The Institute for Poetic Medicine go t0 poeticmedicine.org/poetry. His website will soon be upgraded and enhanced.

James Whittle is an acupuncturist in Asheville. More info: blueridgeclinic.com

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About James Whittle
James Whittle M.S., L.Ac. is an acupuncturist and a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Asheville, NC. Visit James at www.blueridgeclinic.com. Follow me @jamescwhittle

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