Writing Poetry for Liberation, Transformation, and Just Plain Fun

Johanna Shapiro, PhD

As a psychologist teaching and doing research in family medicine, I have long been intrigued by mind-body-spirit connections. However, it is only in the last several years that I have discovered creative writing, and in particular poetry, as a personally important mediator amongst these various dimensions. In 1997, I experienced a severe spontaneous retinal detachment in my right eye, and for a while it was not clear how much vision would be preserved. Although my first-rate retinal surgeon warned me to regard this event as “a brush with mortality,” I persisted in initially approaching it as a technical glitch in the physical mechanism. I searched the scientific literature, and acquired enviable expertise about this condition. yet, not surprisingly, nothing I read was in the least consolatory. I continued to feel afraid, isolated, and despondent, and unable even to acknowledge these feelings in other than a detached, analytical manner. Then, serendipitously, a friend gave me a collection of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I began to read, I began to cry, and I began to feel understood. I devoured poetry about illness and, after awhile, started writing poems myself.

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