On Prescribing Poems for the Sick,
the Dying, the Grief Stricken
Ronna Bloom Explores the Power of Poetry in a Hospital Waiting RoomLast month I spent the day in the waiting room. This could be the rallying cry of millions of citizens all over the world. Actually, I spent the day in three waiting rooms of the Joint Department of Medical Imaging (JDMI) in three hospitals across Toronto prescribing poems, offering them to those who were truly waiting.I’ve been offering writing workshops and poems quietly to staff at Mount Sinai Hospital as Poet in Residence since 2012. The program was established through a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, in conjunction with the Health, Arts and Humanities Program at the University of Toronto, and trucks along through grants from donors. As the focus has mostly been staff, I’d only recently begun to get the poems directly to patients and caregivers.
The poetry dispensary doesn’t fit into any framework for “ordinary relationships.” It is not therapy, though I’m a psychotherapist. It’s not friendship or teaching. Is healing happening? Art? At once, playful and deeply serious, it’s a performance and exchange. I rely on people’s willingness to share their stories. I rely on the poem to reflect what might not be articulated any other way. Though its efficacy is uncharted, I rely on it the way you rely on art to do something when you need something nothing else can do. But the point is less about liking and more about finding the poem that catches the spark of their experience, with empathy. They are not actually meant to be ‘prescriptive’; they are like little flags of possibility.