Thursday, July 19, 2012

Poetry and Grief

Hello there, blogosphere.  I hope this post finds all of you counselors well, and for school counselors that you are getting some much needed rest and rejuvenation over the summer break.

I am currently attending a Grief and Loss Summer Institute at the George Washington University and we just finished with day one.  It was filled with excellent information, time for reflection, and some wonderful tools for all of us to take back to our work with our populations.

One of our presenters today was Mary Azoy, a therapist in the DC metro area with a lot of experience not only in crisis counseling but in life transitions.  Further, she is a Certified Poetry Therapist, using poetry and writing as a means of helping people to find and express their feelings and thoughts as well as work through the situations and challenges that bring them to her office.  One of the activities that she walked us through today was to give us a poem to read by Denise Levertov entitled:

Writing in the Dark

It's not difficult
Anyway, it's necessary.

Wait till morning, and you'll forget.
And who knows if morning will come.

Fumble for the light,
and you'll be
stark awake, but the vision
will be fading, slipping
out of reach.

You must have paper at hand.
A felt-tip pen, ballpoints don't always flow,
pencil points tend to break. There's nothing
shameful in that much prudence: those are our tools.

Never mind about crossing your t's, dotting your i's-
but take care not to cover
one word with the next.  Practice will reveal
how one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other
to keep each line
clear of the next.

Keep writing in the dark:
a record of the night, or
words that pulled you from the depths of unknowing,
words that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices,

or opened
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:

words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.


Then, she asked us to pick one line that spoke to each of us, one line that we felt was most applicable to ourselves, and then use that as the first line in our own writing, whether that be poetry or prose.  We had five minutes--this short amount of time can help motivate people to move quickly, overcome any writer's block they may have, and can help to insure that what hits the page is what has entered the mind first, avoiding a lot of over-thinking.  In our larger group of today, you had people choosing all sorts of different lines from the original poem, and even those of us that may have chosen the same line had different reasons for our choice, and wrote entirely different pieces based on those variations.  For our students who may sometimes have a challenging time being able to verbalize and access their feelings of loss or the many emotions that come with any major life transition, this exercise could be one way to help them access and express those affectations.  You could even give students choices, allowing them to either write, develop a rap, or draw a picture about the line in a poem that particularly spoke to them.  This may be an activity to try with your next group you run on grief and loss, or it could be applied to any group of students you are bringing together to work through a major life transition--middle school to high-school, high-school to post-secondary, moving, changing families, etc.  Further, this activity and variations could work with elementary students through high-school age.  There are a variety of poems and prose available on this topic everything from Shel Silverstein to books in your personal or school library.  Additionally, Mary recommended The Sun Magazine, an ad-free publication that is available by subscription but also has some  materials available online for free that are searchable by topic.

Here was my writing based on the line I chose from the poem above, "Wait till morning, and you'll forget":

Wait till morning, and you'll forget.

You'll forget the vivid dreams that contain real conversations with those you've lost.
You'll forget the new things that you will do together.
You'll forget the words of wisdom they still have to impart to you.
You'll forget the laughter that you both will share over the most bizarre of situations or the most trivial of details.

Wait till morning, and you'll forget.
The feeling, though, of their presence will still linger.


  1. What an awesome opportunity to attend that workshop. The poem is powerful, and so open to reflection. Thank you for posting this idea, and some resources to go along with it!

  2. I wanted to choose the same line you did for a very similar reason but didn't because it was too personal. Thank you for sharing!!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.