On Wednesday, April 3, students and faculty gathered in Neville 402 to listen to “The Personal is Poetic,” a panel discussion on the therapeutic potential of poetry. The event was sponsored by the English department as well as the McGillicuddy Humanities Center. This panel was organized as part of fourth-year English student Kimberly Crowley’s honors thesis.
Crowley received a McGillicuddy Humanities Fellowship to further develop her thesis on the therapeutic uses of poetry and her personal experience with poetry as a healing and coping tool. As poets and academics, visiting Professor Danielle Pafunda and Professor Jennifer Moxley were invited to participate as guest panelists.
“Ever since I was a preteen, I have turned to poetry to process my feelings and the world around me,” Crowley said. “Writing has played a big part in my life so far.”
Crowley shared opening lines from her thesis introduction and explained the relevance of her personal story and reasons for writing the thesis. She also shared with the audience her personal reasons for turning to poetry during rough times in her life. Crowley read an original poem that was included in her thesis and read a piece from Adrienne Rich’s “Diving Into the Wreck.”
“Poetry means more to my life than I can ever fully explain,” Crowley said. “I never thought at the beginning of this year that I would be writing my thesis on the therapeutic uses of poetry, or that it would have become such a big part of my senior year.”
Crowley facilitated the conversation by sharing her thoughts and thesis research, which was followed by Pafunda and Moxley sharing their own personal findings on this topic through their research and published works. Moxley has published collections of poetry as well as translations, and a memoir titled “The Middle Room.” Pafunda has nine published collections of poetry, including “Pretty Young Thing,” “My Zorba” and “Manhater.”
Pafunda shared her personal thoughts and posed the following question to the audience: “Why poetry?” She used this question to dive further into the reasoning for therapeutic poetry.
“It helps to articulate the inarticulable, put words down on the page that we may not have necessarily even thought we were capable of thinking about or producing,” Pafunda said. “Even poetry that hurts us to read can articulate things we haven’t put into language before in really interesting ways.”
Moxley continued the panel discussion by sharing her own opinions on the relationship between therapy and poetry. She read from a few of her collections, one being “The Follow-Through,” and pointed out particular poems she wrote that she found these themes present it. Much of her work deals with the idea of therapy versus art in poetry, and also with Plato and other philosophers ideas of the “mad” poet. This stigma centers around the idea that people who write poetry experience an out of body experience and are in a different headspace when they write. Crowley explained how this relates to the therapeutic uses of it.
Poetry was first introduced as something to be used in therapy for healing or for growth in 1969 when therapist Jack Leedy published a book about the uses of poetry that extend beyond purely artistic. The movement was created as a subcategory of Art Therapy, which was first coined as a term in 1942.
During the panel discussion, Crowley and her fellow panelists talked about how poetry has developed as a form of therapy that is actually recognized and practiced by psychologists and therapists, and that it is an inexpensive way to get your thoughts and ideas out onto the page.
The event concluded with a Q&A session from the audience members, and many students and English department faculty shared their own opinions and thoughts on the relationship between poetry and therapy.