Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poetry and Healing - a post by Kathleen Henderson Staudt

From now through early June, the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts will be featuring an installation called FLUID:  Rhythms, Transitions and Connections, work by Francie Hester, Lisa Hill and Reecca Kamen.   Of particular interest to me is the blending of poetry with fabric art and Sculpture in Hester and Hill's piece " Words as Legacy – A Leaf of Knowledge.". This work was Inspired by the words left behind by Brendan Ogg, a young poet who passed away from brain cancer at age 20. An integral element of the work includes community knitting by more than a hundred participants and a musical composition by Mattson Ogg.

Brendan Ogg and his family were members of the babysitting co-op in our neighborhood when our children were young.  I remember sitting for Brendan when he was quite small, but I got to know him well during the last year of his life, when we had several deep and important conversations about his passionate interest in and love of poetry,the poetry that he wrote both before, and particularly in the year after, his diagnosis and surgery for a brain cancer that proved fatal. I had the privilege of editing for publication Brendan's chapbook, Summer Become Absurd, which was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010, shortly after Brendan's death.  A gifted poet, he learned much from the experience of illness and limitation and wrote eloquently out of that experience.  Some of the poems in this volume were written during a workshop offered by the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts,  and I will have an opportunity to help perpetuate this gift when I lead a workshop on April 28 at the Smith Center, called "Finding our Voices, Telling our Stories.". More information is available here .

I found my own voice as a poet coming out of an experience of illness and loss:  a cancer diagnosis and the encounter with mortality that this can bring -- and did bring for me (some of my poems from this experience are included in my book Waving Back: Poems of Mothering Life).  20 years later, I found that this experience, and the paradoxical sense of grace that came with it, created a connection between me and Brendan, younger than my own children and living a lifetime in the last year of his life.  We will be exploring themes of poetry and healing later this spring at the Bethesda Writer's Center I will be reading with Margaret Ingraham (one of the guests at our recent  dean's forum on poetry and Scripture ) and friends of Brendan.  Our program will be entitled "Poetry of Loss and Life."

Brendan's story, his poems, and the lively artistic community that has sprung up in our neighborhood in his memory, all testify to the power of the arts to bring healing and deepen community, perhaps most of all in times of deep sadness and unbearable loss.  The events around his work this spring carry for me some deep insights into the mystery of Resurrection, and how we grow into that mystery through our creative work.

More on Brendan's work and story can be found at the website "Words as Legacy".

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