Psych and Skype


So when your son got sick and there was no diagnosis and no treatment, you read poetry.

Only part of the story, I say, the part just after the beginning.

Seniors in an Advanced Psychology class and I are skype-ing. Larry Welkowitz, Ph.D., Psychology, and webmeister of among others Asperger’s Conversations, arranged our videoconference. The class had read Blue Peninsula. I can see the students as they speak, aspects of concern and perspective evident in their faces and in the questions they ask. It is heartening to be in the company of young people immersed in work at the center of which is a therapeutic response to the “other”, the outliers, the disenfranchised, the “abnormal”. They are interested in coping mechanisms for grief and loss.

The beginning of this particular story belongs to the disease, I continue. Arriving out of nowhere.

Poetry showed up not long after and stayed—as companion, guide, space for reflection, rescue and forward propulsion. Never in isolation, poetry has always run alongside the requisite problem-solving, planning, therapy, medical management of symptoms, and wonderfully ordinary daily life. It is, for me, not just for emergency situations or difficulties or things needing fixing but also for regularly finding that position of complex gratitude that makes sense and holds, whether the focus is personal or much much broader.

The horrors we face daily around the globe…challenge us to find meaning in the midst of suffering. Poetry answers this challenge. It puts us in touch with ourselves. It sends us messages from the interior and also connects us to others. It is intimate and secretive; it is generously collective, Edward Hirsch writes in his opening introduction to Poet’s Choice, in three beautifully direct pages about what poetry does. Poetry here is vital. Poetry speaks with the greatest intensity against the effacement of individuals, the obliteration of communities, the destruction of nature. It tries to keep the world from ending by positing itself against oblivion. The words are marks against erasure.

I seek poetry, and at times, as with the most wonderful ambush, it finds me. Living on the island of Manhattan, ingress and egress is by toll or ticket only. No way in or out without paying, and while I cringe at the $8 here, $4 there, the $12.25 train ticket, I appreciate the metaphor. The toll booth gate arm refuses to rise when your EZpass account has been depleted. Among the deposits I need now—along with family, friends, music, dancing, exercise, discipline, work—is poetry. Beautiful words artfully worked made into something at once for me and for many more than me. Links. Connection.

The same day I skyped with the New Hampshire students, I had the extra heaping helping of pleasure with the visit to my New School classroom of a superbly gifted writer who is also unusually skilled and generous in discussing his writing process. Toward the end of his conversation with us, after much consideration of the “problems” of writing, I asked what writing gives him, what it does for him. While I cannot say I love the writing while I’m doing it, he said, there is almost nothing, no, I can say there is nothing sweeter than having written.” He went on to say that in writing he is seen, he becomes visible.

So too, I want to say, for reading, and for reading poetry. And with short lyric poetry, the “having read” and the “becoming visible” can feed quickly back into the re-reading; poems rarely, if ever, deliver all the goods the first time around. They are built that way, and the process of interacting with them becomes one of movement, not stasis. There are as many “right” ways to begin reading it as there are potential readers, a myriad compelling conversations begun solo and carried outward at their own speeds, a sui generis engagement that is often nothing short of thrilling, settling in the in-between times into sustaining, abiding joy and beauty, a love affair and a lifelong friendship.

In several spots around this website are links to reading and poetry among which are Poetry Foundation, Academy of American Poets. Below are a few of the direct medicine/therapy/literature connections to Blue Peninsula:

NYU’s Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database and the annotation for Blue Peninsula can be accessed here.

For my April 2008 posting,”Connections,” on NYU’s Medical Humanities blog, click here.

Larry Welkowitz, Professor of Psychology at Keene State College in Keene, NH, brings a particular perspective to Blue Peninsula in his podcast of our May 2006 conversation. See Asperger’s Conversations.