Transformative Poems – Staff Favorites

Venetian / Party Mask

Staff Favorites is a monthly installation for 2019 featuring the mental health and self care picks from our very own LifeWorks staff. 2019 will highlight books, self-soothing items, blogs/instagrams, places to move your body around Chicago, and more!. We look forward to sharing our favorites with you and welcome you to send us your thoughts and ideas as well!

This month we are focusing on LifeWorks staff’s favorite poems. We present to you the words that have moved and carried us, buoyed us, and enveloped us. We present to you poets who translated wounds and ecstasy into a shared human experience and helped us understand ourselves and the world in new ways. We hope that our experiences of this art form help you encounter unfamiliar and necessary parts of yourselves in more whole and supportive ways. As always, please share your favoritres in the comments section.

In honor of James Baldwin, whose 95th birthday would have been celebrated this month, we open with these transcendent words:

Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.

 

Anna McDonald: Afropunk by Cameron Awkward-Rich

Poetry for me is something that has always been a calming force in my life. I own a multitude of poetry collections and I am constantly surprised and enamored by the new poets that are making their way and publishing new works. One of my favorites is Cameron Awkward-Rich. He is a trans person of color who has published two poetry collections. I purchased Sympathetic Little Monster after hearing the following poem on the Facebook Button Poetry channel. You can find his website here.

To me Afropunk is a call back to when I was an awkward teenager, not knowing who I was or where I was going and being told that the music I listened to and the way I dressed made me an outsider, and the triumph of deciding that if I am going to live my life I am going to live it as myself and not what anyone else thinks I should be. Even though this poem didn’t help me overcome any hardships, what it did was remind me in a very uplifting way about the struggle I had to finally find comfort in who I am regardless of the box I felt pressured to fit into as a black teenager.

I highly recommend watching him perform it live.

Poet Cameron Awkward-Rich

A mosh pit is not the same as dancing
It’s more like a cat thrown into an ocean of sweat and elbows
And any choreography that follows is just an animal trying to stay alive.
In middle school even the cool kids wear their bodies like clothes that don’t quite fit
But me, I’ve never been cool as i was in eighth grade
Never wore my skin so well as that year I discovered white boys and black eyeliner and that violence they called a dance.
But when punk be black, when it be a girl throwing herself into a riot of white
It’s not cause she needs a lesson in survival, there’s the whole world for that
But goddamn, if the bullet has to leave one chamber to fill another
If the girl has to be split and split
And the boy riddled with stars
And if the world must go on
If our blood must kiss the concrete, let the first time be an act of love
Let it be a wedding song and not a funeral
And if pain be unavoidable, let it first be a pain we choose
Let us learn how far our bodies can ride it, before the music cuts out.

 

Alison Wolf: You Can’t Have It All by Barbara Ras & Untitled by Mia Vera

I think the context I could provide about the Barbara Ras poem is just that it reminds me of all the beauty and sensuality I could miss if I only attend to what I’ve lost. And the Mia Vera poem reminds me of the intimacy of imperfection.

https://poets.org/poem/you-cant-have-it-all

https://thisismiavera.com/2019/07/30/the-smallest-hello/?fbclid=IwAR3m5z_CDkMdnCYeZIEvx02REZKDtcExfHHEj-gcVkldWRQ4XjOD77iqNzc

 

Betsy Duke: She Had Some Horses & Call It Fear by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is a Muscogee (Creek) poet whose work lit up my psyche (from the Greek, psukhre meaning breath, life, or soul) when I needed it the most. Her work moved through me like fire, illuminating all of the cracks and crevices in my life body. Below are two clips of the pieces that have stayed with me the longest, read by Harjo herself.

She Had Some Horses

Call It Fear

 

Angel Ziegler: One Art  by Elizabeth Bishop

One of my favorite poems is One Art by Elizabeth Bishop. It’s a lovely sentiment to how vast and universal grief is and how many things are encompassed in the word grief. This poem highlights how standard of a state grief is and how many people will experience it at some point in some fashion, yet how devastating and earth-shattering it can still be. Bishop’s poem has been extremely validating for me in the face of my own grief, and each time I read it, it is a comfort to me and that part of me.

 

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

Kanchana Henrich: prose from various authors

“Become friends with people who are not your own age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who isn’t from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow. This is how you learn.” 

-Anonymous

 

“While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole.”

-Hans Bos

 

“If you feel like you don’t fit in this world it is because you are here to help build another one.” 

-Anonymous

 

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift”.

-Albert Einstein

 

Matt Amador: from The Second O of Sorrow by Sean Thomas Dougherty.

Why Bother?

Because right now there is                  someone

Out there with

a wound                                              in the exact shape

 of your words.

 

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About Elizabeth Duke, Psy.D.

Elizabeth Duke joined the LifeWorks Psychotherapy team in July 2015. She has been trained as an Equine Assisted Psychotherapist and also has had a therapy dog. Clients who are experiencing depression, loss, or long standing difficulties in relationships sometimes find a therapy animal can offer a unique channel of healing that may not require words. Elizabeth is a member of the American Psychological Association; Division 32, Society for Humanistic Psychology; Division 44, Society for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues; and Kink & Poly Aware Chicago Therapists (KPACT).