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Poetry Heals

Molly Wingate
On Art (March 2020)
Healing the World

“Way has opened” countless times over the past five years, as I followed a calling to create a nonprofit organization called Poetry Heals.

We take therapeutic poetry-writing to people living difficult lives. We have learned that people feel better and make better decisions when they write to process what is on their hearts. Even more, when they write in a group, they feel more connected to the community. We have over ninety workshops scheduled in a dozen different locales in 2020. With each workshop, we never know how it will go, but it always works out just fine, and there are always surprises. It reminds me of meeting for worship.

You Don’t Know Me
by Chuck, a Poetry Heals writer

You see that I’m alone
You see that I steal

But you don’t know me.

You would know me if
You knew how hard it was to live alone

You knew how love has hurt me
You knew your mom didn’t love you.

You see that I smoke
You see that I fight

But you don’t know me.

You would know me if
You knew how I turn emotions to haze

You knew how I don’t fear death
You knew how tucked in the corner was sadness.

It started when I discovered a poetry program for homeless teens in Seattle called Pongo Teen Writing. The idea gave me the kind of goosebumps that tell me I’m supposed to pay attention. I started imagining a program like this in my community. When I talked with my poetry buddies, we all got goosebumps.

I live in El Paso County, Colorado, which has the highest teen suicide rate in the country. A high number of military people also complete their suicides here. Our homeless population is burgeoning, and there is despair on our streets. In response to these needs, Poetry Heals works with veterans, active-duty military, teens, and homeless people. Over the past five years, our staff has continued to grow, and we now employ eight part-time writing mentors. We held workshops for over a thousand participants in 2019.

We start each session with a group poem. We offer a starting line, and everyone adds a line if they want to. This morning, in a workshop for the homeless people in the public library, we started, “If I was the mayor ….” Sometimes these group poems get silly, but it’s good to get everyone laughing on a cold February morning.

My fellow writing mentor and I scoured the library, letting people know that we would be holding a workshop soon – with snacks. For a while, it didn’t look like anyone would come, but eventually, seven adults joined us. Everyone wrote a poem, listened to each other, and everyone reported that they felt pretty good when they left. We shared handshakes and a few hugs as we all left the safety of the library classroom, braced for the rest of the day. Sound familiar?

I expect more surprises from Poetry Heals. You are invited to follow our escapades at www.poetryheals.org. If you think you might like to try creating something like this in your community, I am happy to help.  ~~~

Molly Wingate is a long-time writer and writing coach, and a long-time member of Colorado Springs Meeting (IMYM).

The photos that accompany this article are from Molly Wingate.

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