Celebrate National Poetry Month by Attending “Writing Through Cancer”

National Poetry Month was established in 1996 by The Academy of American Poets. The goal was to encourage the reading of poems and for highlighting the legacy and achievements of American poets. There are many ways to celebrate this month as events pop up at local libraries, bookstores, and universities. You may even sign up for a Poem-a-Day, where an unpublished poem comes straight to your email inbox each day.

Personally, I am very excited to honor National Poetry Month by attending The National Association for Poetry Therapy’s 37th Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado. This year’s theme is called, Reaching New Heights: Following your Poetic Journey. It is scheduled to take place on April 6-9, 2017.  This will be my first time attending their conference but I have had the opportunity to learn and work with many of the presenters and participants over the past five years since entering the world of Bibliotherapy during my own breast cancer journey.

The National Association for Poetry Therapy’s web page states:

“A scholarly literary search will reveal more entries under the term “bibliotherapy” than the term “poetry therapy,” which became popular in the 1960s and 1970s. “Bibliotherapy” literally means books, or literature, to serve or help medically. Poetry Therapy is a specific and powerful form of bibliotherapy, unique in its use of metaphor, imagery, rhythm, and other poetic devices. Samuel Crothers first used the term “bibliotherapy” in 1916.”

There are actually many names for bibliotherapy, including: therapeutic writing, expressive writing, journal therapy, and transformational writing. The terms are, for the most part, interchangeable. Expressive writing is personal and emotional writing without regard to form or other writing conventions like spelling, punctuation and verb agreement. It is not necessarily ”creative” writing—it simply expresses what is on your mind and in your heart. It is considered one of The Expressive Arts and is finding its way into Departments of Integrative Medicine in such Universities as Duke, University Of Maryland, and Sloan Kettering.

Dr. James Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology at University of Texas, in Austin, is a leading researcher on the effects of expressive writing. His studies indicate expressive writing leads to:

  • Fewer doctor visits
  • Improved sleep
  • Less pain
  • Positive mood
  • Stronger immune system
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Lower stress hormone levels

Writing Through Cancer meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at BCC.As I pack for Denver, I would like to invite readers to celebrate National Poetry Month by attending “Writing Through Cancer”. Whether you are in active treatment or post treatment, bring your pen and notebook and try your hand at “prompted” writing (example below). All participants have the opportunity to share but are never obligated. Kathleen Adams, a leading expert and author in the field of Journal Therapy (and the Key Note speaker in Denver) explains that writing provides “structure, pacing and containment”.  In other words, when life feels out of control, uncertain, and confusing, writing can be that safe place to explore and give voice to the feelings within.

Writing Prompt

The Way It Is 
By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread. 

Choose one of the prompts below and write without thinking too much about “getting it right”.

  • Make a list of things that have changed. Choose one thing from the list and write about how your thread kept you from being lost.
  • Is there a thread you follow?
  • Have you ever let go of the thread?

About Me

Karen NewcombKaren Newcomb is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. She facilitates writing and other cancer support groups throughout the Bay Area and is a breast cancer survivor! Karen loves spending time with her ever expanding family and has recently rekindled her personal yoga practice.