In celebration of National Poetry Month, we are delighted to share with you the second podcast in our series on poetry and medicine. In the first podcast, we talked with Guy Micco and Marilyn MacEntyre about poetry and aging.
In this second part in our series, we welcome Mike Rabow and Redwing Keyssar to talk about palliative care and poetry.
As with aging, poetry operates on multiple levels within the palliative care space.
Poetry puts us in our patient’s shoes. As Redwing’s poem says, “why not live as long as possible?”
Poetry holds us in that liminal space so many of our patients are in. Paradox. The impossiblity which is life, which is everything, and death, which is the end of life. As Mary Oliver tells us In Blackwater Woods, and I’m paraphrasing here, we must to hold it to our bones, knowing our lives depend on it, and when the time comes, to let it go. To let it go.
Or as in Mark Nepo’s poem Adrift, I am so sad and everything is beautiful.
Poetry helps us grapple with our own experiences of illness. Redwing, who is a cancer survivor, shares poems about her experiences with cancer. Mike Rabow shares his award winning poem about coming out to the world about his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.
We talk not only about reading poetry, but also writing poetry, and using poetry in medical education as a healing modality.
And along the way, we really felt like we got to the heart of things. To the deeper emotions – of loss and grief, of wonder and transcendence – that are at the heart of the complex care we provide.
Links to Redwing’s poetry workshops:
Food for Thought Poetry for Resiliency
Loss, Losing and Loosening, poetry for grief and loss
Wounded Healer poetry sessions
Links to Redwing Keyssar’s poetry collections
Redwing’s website: www.redwingkeyssar.com
Mike Rabow’s Comprehensive Care Team randomized trial of outpatient palliative care
Look also for a forthcoming article by Mike and Redwing in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management on poetry as a healing modality, to be published mid May (will add link when out).
In addition to Redwing’s own songs and poems, other poems read by Mike and Redwing during the podcast:
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg
Eric: Welcome to the GeriPal podcast. This is Eric Widera.
Alex: This is Alex Smith.
Eric: Alex, who do we have with us today?
Alex: Today, we are delighted to welcome Redwing Keyssar, who is a midwife to the dying. She’s a palliative care nurse educator and a writer, and she’s joining us from the great state of Hawaii. Welcome to the GeriPal podcast, Redwing.
Redwing: Thank you. I’m honored to be here.
Alex: We also have Mike Rabow, who is director of palliative care at the Cancer Center at UCSF. Welcome to the GeriPal podcast, Mike.
Mike: Thank you.
Eric: So this is kind of a part two, isn’t Alex? So we did Poetry and Aging. What’s this one, Alex?
Alex: This is Palliative Care Themed Poetry.
Eric: All right. So kind of part two. If you haven’t listened to part one, feel free to, but you don’t have to have listened part one to get a sense of what’s happening in part two. Before we talk about Palliative Care themed poetry, Redwing, I think you have a song request.
Redwing: I do, and I’m going to sing it.
Eric: What song is it?
Redwing: So this song is called One Step at a Time. I wrote it at the grave side of my dearest friend when I was 35 and she was 30. She died in a motorcycle accident. Absolutely the story of how I got involved in palliative care in the first place, but on New Year’s Eve after she died, I was at her grave site singing, which is one of the things I do, one of the things we did together. I said, “If you’re a real out there in spirit, send me a song.” The next thing I know, this came through.
Eric: That was beautiful. Redwing, have you always been inclined towards music and poetry?
Redwing: Always, yes.
Eric: Like since a little kid?
Redwing: Since a little kid.
Eric: What do you think attracted you to it?
Redwing: So I grew up in a pretty intellectual family, but my brother and sister were six and 10 years older than me, and they were always feeding me literature and poetry. When I was about nine-years-old, they gave me a book of poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. In school, I was asked to write a book report, and instead of writing a book report, I wrote a poem that went. A poetess I’m sure of this, was Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her poems abstract, but I react in quite a normal way. Beauty, death, and God, of course, near a cat or dog or horse did she ever speak of. As for her life, she was a wife and naturally was in love. So that came out at age nine, but I didn’t know about Edna St. Vincent Millay at the time was that she was a radical and a Bohemian and lived in Greenwich village and had love affairs with men and women, and did all kinds of things outside of the box. I was very happy at a later age to know that about my first poet.
Eric: That is a remarkable story and terrific memory. Mike, do you have a similar story, and can you recite a poem from when you were in elementary school, please?
Mike: Well, I was not a big poetry fan until later in life. I actually got very excited about literature in ninth grade. I had this amazing teacher, Mr. West, who used to say that all great words of literature were to answer the question, “Who am I?” I think that’s been true for me my whole life, really thinking about literature, thinking about poetry and really just thinking about my own personal develop. Then it really wasn’t until I got into medicine, medical school and residency, that I discovered poetry per se, and a mentor commented, I think to a number of us on this podcast, Steve McKee introduced me to poetry.
Mike: It was really then it was when I was a internal medicine resident that I heard a Mary Oliver poem, and it really connected to where I was at. I was having a difficult breakup at the time, and Mary Oliver really meant everything to me at that point, her poem, Wild Geese. I don’t have any poems from when I was a little kid. I could maybe dig out a birthday card that sent to my mom or something, but I don’t have that accessible to me right now. It’s really, for me, poetry has really been entirely connected to my work in medicine.
Eric: Yeah. I would like to invite you to read a poem, a way of kicking us off and moving us along here. Redwing, do you have a poem that you’d like to start off, or-
Redwing: Oh, we have so many possible poems to share with you today, but-
Redwing: I’m going to start with Mary Oliver who I really see as the poet laureate of palliative care. Her poems have touched so many of us and so much of her content is about the work that we do. This is one that a lot of people know, and it’s always worth reading over and over again in Blackwater Woods.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Redwing: [reading] “Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light, are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment. The long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders of the ponds and every pond, no matter what its name is is nameless now. Every year, everything I have learned in my lifetime leads back to this, the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, who’s meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold did against your bones knowing your own life depends on it, and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
Alex: I love that poem. It always gives me chills.
Alex: I’ve probably heard it 15, 20, 30 times, always gives me chills.
Alex: What is that poem do for you, Redwing? How does that connect to palliative care?
Redwing: Well, like you, Alex, it always gives me chills when I read that poem and I’ve learned it by heart a couple of times. I feel like it’s just one of those poems, those lines about you must be able to do three things. Isn’t that what we always work with, with patients, with our colleagues, with ourselves?
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Redwing: That knowing that we are mortal, knowing our life depends on this knowing, and that there’s going to come a point where we have to let go.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Redwing: That’s the hard point for so many people, and it’s the point where we are often working with people.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It’s also a powerful poem to read at a memorial service.
Alex: Particularly with the let it go line.
Alex: Mike, you have many poems to read. We’d love to fill this hour with poems. Mike, do you have a poem you’d like to share with our listeners?
Mike: Yeah. Thank you. I wanted to read a poem called Therapy by John Wright, who’s a physician. This is a poem that gets into this issue of, what is the clinician relationship to all that stuff that’s going on around us? I don’t think I’ve ever had a palliative care fellow who I’ve been working with or precepting who hasn’t come in after visiting with a patient and said to me, “God, I didn’t do anything,” and this poem addresses that concern.
Mike: “You attribute my recovery to nortriptyline, its effects on neurotransmitters on the amygdala. You barely nod towards your worth, insisting on blood levels on therapeutic doses while I credit half our success to pear trees blossoming white beyond your left shoulder, to the wisteria, its pink flowers, hanging lush and fragrant over the portico to the warmth of your hand. I think that in almost every clinical encounter, we struggle with what’s ours and what’s someone else’s? How much are we there as people? How much does it matter? How are we connected to the tragedies, the victories, the sadnesses that we are swimming in every day? I think that we forget that the clinical encounter is very often just two people in a room experiencing each other, and that that’s what is the beginning of that sacred space of healthcare and healing.”
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eric: Mike, do you ever use poems like that with trainees, especially when, let’s say they’re coming to you with that type of question, “I’m not sure what I actually did in the last hour.”
Mike: So very often, I use poems with trainees, with clinicians in general. I make poems a part of essentially every IDT meeting that we have in my palliative care group at the cancer center, and we’ve been doing that every week for 17 years now. I’ve read a lot of poems to a lot of people, and it’s pretty rare that I go online and Google good poems to read, just because people identify me as someone who likes poems, and so I get sent poems all the time-
Eric: So like this poem that you read by a physician, where did you find it?
Mike: I have no idea. Someone sent it to me.
Redwing: I think I might have sent it to you.
Mike: Yeah. To be honest, Redwing sends me a lot of the poems.
Eric: Hey, Redwing, where do you find your poems?
Redwing: I find them all over the place. I have quite a digital file of poetry. Because I’ve read poems my whole life, I have lots of poetry books. When someone says something that triggers an ideas like, “Oh, there’s that poem in that book.” There’s also the fact that many years ago, four, maybe, or five, I studied with John Fox’s Institute For Poetic Medicine and actually did the training to become a poetic medicine teacher, or they, they call it therapist. In that training, I just learned and was introduced to tons and tons of poems, many of which I use and share. Mike and I have used a lot of these poems and we’ve taught poetry sessions at HPM, at the California Coalition For Compassionate Care Conferences where we’ll do a workshop and ask people not only to listen to poems, but to write something, and what comes through people is amazing.
Mike: I have to say, collecting poems is a little bit like snowball recruitment and research studies where you come to some poet who you can actually understand what they’re saying, and so then you just read more of their poems. So you read more Mary Oliver, or you read Mark Nepo, or you read William Stafford just because you like them, or for me, it’s that I could understand what they’re talking about, so that’s who I stick with.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Redwing, do you have another poem that you’d like to share with us?
Redwing: Many. I’m also to get to read you a poem of mine, because partly I see the use of poetry, of poetic medicine as really as medicine, as part of a healing modality for myself and for everyone who I work with. Through the Mary Center, now I teach three poetry sessions a week; one on grief and loss, one on poems for the wounded healer, and one on resiliency. I personally come into poetry from the angle of using it as a healing modality personally, because I’ve now had cancer twice and writing poetry especially through chemotherapy and through the healing process was a really powerful way for me to be in that process and express the feelings. So after my last chemotherapy in 2018, I came here to my healing place of Hawaii and spent time alone, and this poem, Hawaiian Waters, flat black lava, resting green sea turtles, gentle, translucent turquoise water and waves. This life on earth is the real deal. Magic abounds, and only requires open eyes and ears and hearts to experience its mysteries and power. Why not live as long as possible? Why not live as long as possible?
Alex: That’s great. Yeah.
Redwing: When you’re diagnosed with cancer, the first thing you think about is when you’re going to die.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Redwing: As I work with people and have worked with people for so many years, especially cancer patients and in the conversations in palliative care, it’s about what matters most now? How do we live our lives fully?
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Can I ask, Redwing, do you ever ask patients or people you care for to write poetry?
Alex: It sounds like that might be a part of the workshops that you run.
Redwing: That’s what we do in these workshops. I had planned to start doing in-person poetry sessions with cancer patients at the beginning of 2020.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Redwing: I did the first week of March in 2020, and then as we all know, the world shut down and changed. So beginning, literally April 1, 2020 until now I started with one poetry recession a week. It quickly had a waiting list so that it went to two and then, then it went to three. I said, “There are different themes to different workshops,” but in those sessions, it’s one hour. There are two poems that I typically read, and then we ask people just to respond from their hearts and what touches their heart and soul. It’s not about analyzing, criticizing, figuring anything out. It’s like, what touches you in this poem? What word?
Redwing: What makes you curious? Then I give them a prompt, or they pick their own prompt and they write for five minutes. When they come back, they share the poems they’ve written. This has become a community of people all over the world who come together every week. People from the UK, people from Germany, people from Australia have come, people from all over our country. They’ve created a whole community of people who know each other just by listening to the words that they allow through and the vulnerability that they show to people they don’t even know. That has become such a healing force for so many of them.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: You guys know that this is a nice time to announce that Redwing and I, with first author, Ian Clark, and others put a paper together to really try to organize our thoughts about how poetry can be a healing modality. We talk about the structure of poetry being used in writing, so writing poems with people; reading poems as part of a community, that experience of reading out loud and talking about poems, and then the use of poems in medical and clinical healthcare education, where people have a chance, I think, through poetry to grow in their empathy, to really understand experiences of other people and also, to really understand themselves. So that idea of reading poetry, of writing poetry and of using poetry in education is the three-part way of structuring the idea about poetry as a healing modality.
Alex: Is that publication out?
Mike: It’s coming out May 15th.
Alex: May 15th. Yeah. That’s coming out in JP…
Redwing: JPSM, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, yeah.
Alex: We’ll have a link to that in the show notes. We haven’t decided exactly when we’ll publish this podcast, but we may delay it until that article comes out. Some quick reflections, Redwing, and before we move on to Mike for the next poem, one is that poem you wrote, we’re so often in palliative care, talking with patients about goals other than living as long as possible-
Alex: What your poem centers us on is the amazing magical world we live in that inspires us to naturally want to live as long as possible-
Alex: … to move us out of ourselves and our palliative care clinician hats of, well, quality of this life, all these things are more important essentially into the patient space, where there are so many factors that motivate them to want to live as long as possible. I love the way in which it operates on that level. Mike and I go actually way back. In medical school, I worked with Mike on the comprehensive care team long before there was Jennifer Temple’s randomized trial of outpatient palliative care for cancer. Mike Rebos, may be the first randomized trial of outpatient and palliative and included this thing called “art experientials,” where patients with serious illness came in, engaged in art with this incredible art therapist; I mean, incredible.
Alex: I only saw small window into what the whole comprehensive care team did, but to my mind, that was probably some key component. I worry that in some of our current randomized trials, we’ve lost that more artistic element, a creative element, generative element of working with patients, if you will, and moved more into the, getting back to Mike’s poem, nortriptyline space, so those are just some reflections. Feel free to comment on that, Mike, or move on to the next poem.
Mike: Well, I do think that one of the ways that poetry is right at the center of palliative care is around the issue of paradox. I think we all pay attention to the idea that maybe poems point us towards deep meaning, maybe poems create a safe space for people who experience themselves or other people. But I think poetry is particularly palliative care because poetry is able to hold that middle space, sort of a liminal space, which is exactly what palliative care is doing a lot of the time, right? We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. We’re trying to remember that everything is both/and, not either/or, and that’s what Jennifer Kimmel proved to us as well. We’re trying hard to live in the impossibility of life, which means everything and death, which is the end of that life.
Mike: We’re really trying to explore Mary Oliver, the idea of holding something like your life depended on it, but also being willing to let it go. I wanted to read a poem called Adrift by Mark Nepo, which is about, I think, the paradox that we live in, and this is Adrift. Everything is beautiful, and I am so sad. This is how the heart makes a duet of wonder and grief. The light spraying through the lace of the fern is as delicate as the fibers of memory forming their web around the knot in my throat. The breeze makes the birds move from branch to branch, as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost in the next room, in the next song, in the laugh of the next stranger. In the very center under it all, what we have that no one can take away and what we’ve lost face each other. It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured by a holiness that exists inside everything. I am so sad and everything is beautiful. So it’s both, and there it’s hard to live in impossibility and it’s hard to live in paradox.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: I think poetry is really helpful for me to be able to hold both things-
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: … and to really situate myself or to situate ourselves in a world that is both incredibly small; how many milligrams of morphine do you give, an incredibly infinitely enormous, the value, the preciousness of love and loss and connection.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: That’s why I think poetry is so helpful to me.
Alex: One of the things your poem brings up is, I think the word in their poem is, holiness, or holy, and that there’s a long tradition of religious-themed poetry and this connection between poetry and the spiritual. It comes through in poems that you read, Redwing, and that there’s a connection between ourselves and the natural world, and that’s what comes through to me and Mary Oliver’s poems. It evokes that spiritual sense. I remember Steve McPhee used to talk about the I, thou relationship with you and the patient in front of you, and also the I, thou relationship talking about a higher power; in his case, he’s very Catholic. But for some of us, it might be an I, vow relationship to a connection with beauty, nature, the waves, the sea turtles, the lava. Redwing, I invite you to expand on that and to read us in another poem.
Redwing: I certainly experience listening to poetry, reading poetry, writing poetry as spiritual events, and I witness it every week with all these people and the circle on a Zoom screen, where you’re just allowing some connection to something outside of yourself, but inside of yourself at the same time, to manifest through words, which is a pretty amazing thing. So often, people say to me, “Oh, my gosh. I was so surprised by what came through.” They hear a prompt and when you start writing in five minutes without figuring out what you’re going to write, just allowing, there is that sense of, call it spiritual flow for lack of a better word, that just that comes through.
Redwing: I think, certainly for so many people with serious illness, whether they consider themselves religious or spiritual, we as clinicians, when we’re with them sense that there is some spiritual transition paradox questioning going on for that person dealing with a serious illness and working with grief and not knowing how to do that, whether it’s anticipatory grief or grief of someone who just died. Actually, here’s a great one that is about this spiritual place. It’s a poem by Elizabeth Berg called Talk Before Sleep. I like to think that she looked out the window one last time the night she died, and saw with a new understanding the placement of the stars. I like to think something comprehensively vast and complex moved into her soul at that moment, and that it’s not pathology was what took her breath away.
Mike: I think we all lived in that spot. Rachel Remen who wrote Kitchen Table Wisdom, another mentor of mine, always used to talk about how we’re already standing on sacred ground, and then the question is whether or not you can open your eyes to it, or whether or not you can grow new eyes to see it, and whether or not you can appreciate what it is. I’ve always talked about for me, palliative care as in response to that question that we all get, “Oh, it must be so sad. Why do you do that? How can you do that?” From my perspective, suffering exists in the world already, and whether or not I recognize that, whether or not I’m open to it, whether or not I see it is irrelevant because suffering exists. So my only question is what my relationship will be to suffering. “Do I ignore it, or do I try and be of some solace, some help?”
Mike: I think that each of us needs has the opportunity to figure out what we’re doing. What is at the center for us? What matters for us? What is sacred for us? What is worth putting all these hours in? What is worth putting our own well-being at risk for? What is worth opening ourselves up to the deepest pains we can imagine. Another poem I want to read called Years of Experience With Bows and Arrows, which has really been helpful for me, as I’m trying to learn from other people what’s important and at the same time, recognizing that I need to think about and understand what’s important. Ultimately, just within myself.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eric: Who wrote the poem?
Mike: This is Olav Hauge, and it’s translated by Robert Bly. Years of Experience With Bows and Arrows. What you are supposed to hit is the bullseye, that black spot, that precise spot and the arrow is supposed to stand there quivering, but that’s not where the arrow goes. You get close to it, closer and closer, no, not close enough. Then you have to go out and pick up all the arrows, walk back and try it again. That black spot is highly annoying until you finally grasp that where your arrow stands quivering is also the center of something.
Mike: I think that in academic medicine, in medicine in general and probably in life in general, I think we all grew up thinking there’s something we’re supposed to be doing, that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and we get and rewarded for accomplishments and achievements and doing the right thing as healthcare providers. At the same time, we are also stuck with the reality that we have our lives to live and our understanding of the universe to grow. I think poetry, in some ways, is a big relief to me because it validates just the fact that we’re all allowed to have the experience that we have and to make the meaning of it that we make.
Alex: Mike, you said that in ninth grade you started getting interested in literature. It feels like it’s much more personal to you right now. When did that start?
Mike: In some ways, poetry has always been a very private thing for me.
Mike: I’ve read poetry and I’ve written my own poems, but it’s been a very long path for me to really take advantage of the power of community, which is where I think poetry can really shine.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: I’ve been dealing with living with multiple sclerosis myself for 13 years, and it’s been a very private experience and one that I’ve not shared even with some very close friends and close people in my community.
Alex: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mike: But I wrote a poem about having MS and submitted it to contest. I made a bargain with myself that if the poem won the contest and got published, then I would come out as having my own illness of having MS after 30 years of working with other people with illness.
Eric: How long ago was this where you made the promise to yourself?
Mike: So this was in the fall, and then the poem did actually win. So I was really forced to do what I had finally gotten ready to do after 13 years, which was to share the things that are most meaningful to me, and in some ways the things that I have the hardest time facing myself with other people, and it’s been an amazing experience to share that poem. I wanted to read it here, and thank you guys for the opportunity to do that. It’s part of my it’s part of my healing. It’s part of my gratitude for the world offers me. So this is called Sliding Down. Every parent knows the question. A suggestion really, asked and offered with nothing but love, no challenge to independence or skill or bravery. Do you want to slide down on your butt? Just the hard part, just the steepest part with the eroded soil in the rotted wooden planks. Here was my beautiful wife asking me, a grown man, her man with whom she’ll stick no matter what, even after the MS progresses further and I cannot even slide anymore.
Mike: Wrestling a little with the question, I wondered privately, “How will I get down, and do I really deserve such a sweet woman caring if I do?” It’s been an amazing experience for me to deal with my own shame about disability, for me to deal with my own ableism and for me to hold myself apart for my work community and to try and pass as someone who wasn’t dealing with MS and wasn’t dealing with disability. The process of sharing that of literally of reading that poem in community has been amazing. It’s really personalized you UCSF for me, and it brought my vulnerability, brought so many people into our lives who were willing to share their vulnerable parts.
Mike: I will tell you know, we’re all thinking all the time now how do we deal with burnout and how do we find resiliency and build that into healthcare and into palliative care? My experience has been since sharing that poem with my friends and colleagues at UCSF really quite broadly, I don’t go on to a Zoom call these days without seeing someone on Zoom at a work meeting who hasn’t just recently sent me an email filled with love and support, and vulnerability and their own sharing. So it’s personalized my work world, and sort of brought me a little bit closer to integrating the whole. When you deal with loss and when you deal with paradox, actually being able to integrate it all into one life, into your life, is one of the biggest challenges, and poetry’s been helpful for me for that.
Redwing: So often, we think that it’s a more powerful position to not be vulnerable, to not let people see inside of who we really are; and yet, the reality is it changes all of the dynamics when we’re vulnerable with each other.
Eric: Yeah. In some ways it takes a lot more courage to express vulnerability than to pretend that we don’t have any of it. I just think back to medical training, expressing vulnerability is often a sign of weakness.
Eric: I think in medical training, even terms like “weak sauce,” or things like that make it so that it seems like it’s not strong or courageous if you actually do express things like your own illnesses or your struggles…
Alex: I heard a saying from one of the man’s best hospitals in Boston, “The strong will be strong and the weak will be weak,” it just punches to the heart of the matter there. Mike and Redwing, thank you so much for being vulnerable with us and sharing these poems with us and these stories about your own illness and your own illness experience. Redwing, we have time for another poem before you sing a song. Do you have another poem that you could share with us?
Redwing: I have so many, however, let’s end with a short poem by, if I can find it, by Raymond Carver, that I use a lot, called Late Fragments. Did you get what you wanted from this light, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
Alex: Eric, I got to check in with you. Eric is a self-described poetry skeptic. [laughter]
Redwing: No longer.
Alex: How can you not be moved? Eric, what’s going on for you internally? Be vulnerable here.
Eric: So maybe I’m not intellectual enough. I think Mike’s comment about for a lot of poetry, I don’t understand it, and it doesn’t bring me joy. I got to say, though, I’m going to give an example of Mike’s poem. I had the opportunity to read Mike’s poem, which I thought was fabulous, but it didn’t hit me until actually Mike said it in this podcast, and I saw him and that very personal experience and coming out made me emotional. I do feel the power of it. I got to say though, like reading a Shakespeare poem, never going to get it. I know there’s some things I should be doing as a pallative care doctor. Everybody tells me I should do meditation. Even my new iPhone app tells me I should meditate every day. I’m not sure I’ve bought into poetry yet, but I think maybe there’s a nidas of change.
Mike: I would say that you don’t have to buy into poetry. Poetry exists like truth exists and suffering exists and beauty exists, and you get to decide how you connect with those things.
Mike: Whether it be through sports or love or sex or wine or art or your kids or other people’s kids or your pet, anything that moves you is poetry. If it, comes in words, then that’s what we usually think about as poetry, but people have often referred to all these other meaningful things as poetry; the way a song can be poetry, the way a sunset can be poetry. Eric, I don’t believe that anyone has to convince you of anything, I just wish you well in finding beauty and meaning in your life.
Eric: Yeah. I think what really touched me too, is your story of making things from a personal to the importance of the community. I feel like that was probably a part of really what hit me when you talked about your poem and the importance of that as a palliative care community and as a healthcare provider community is I do see the power of something like poetry or art. Like Alex said, it’s not just about the nortriptyline and the new opioid receptors, that there’s something else that makes the work we do special.
Redwing: Unfortunately, so many of us grew up with poems that weren’t understandable, and It just set this a negative stage of what poetry was and who was a writer and who wasn’t. So many people who come to our poetry session say, “Well, I’m not a writer. I’m not a poet. I’ve never written a poem,” and then within the next half hour, they’ve written for five minutes and they share what has come through them. We call it a poem, no matter what it is, because it expresses something important that came to them and that this other circle of community on a screen understand who this person is by what they’ve just expressed. That sense of community and connection is a healing in itself.
Eric: Well, Redwing, do you want to give us a little bit more of the song you started off with?
Redwing: I’m actually going to sing a different one.
Redwing: So one of the things that happens to me often as I change words to old songs, so this one came, I was standing on my grandmother’s grave in Northern Vermont. I had just made a snow angel on top of her grave, and I got up from the grave and started singing new words to an old Quaker song.
Eric: That was lovely, Redwing. Thank you.
Alex: Thank you.
Eric: Mike, a very big. Thank you also for joining us, sharing your poems, including your very personal poem. Redwing, also very big thank you for being on the GeriPal podcast.
Redwing: Honored to be here. Thank you both so much.
Mike: And the podcast, I would say, is a poem as well.
Redwing: I agree, for sure.
Eric: I also can’t believe it took us five years to have both of you on our podcast, more than five. How many years has it been, Alex?
Alex: I think there was some protesting from one of the co-hosts.
Redwing: There are a lot of things we can talk about, but this is probably our favorite.
Alex: This is great.
Eric: Well, again, thank you for being in the podcast. Thank you for all of our listeners for your support and ArchStone Foundation for your continued support of the podcast.