Creative Space

Poetry: Celebrating Shared Humanity

Fun Fact: March 20 is World Poetry Day. (Yes, I didn’t know this either, until I became Editor of ISSTD News.) United Nations started world poetry day in 1999 to celebrate the shared linguistic traditions of all cultures. They write: “Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.”

So, on that note, we invited members to contribute poetry to the March Edition of ISSTD News. Each poet has contributed a poem and written a little about what poetry means for them, or how they utilise poetry, personally or professionally.

On another note, through my query I learned that in fact a group of ISSTD Members is forming a poetry group and are welcoming new members. To learn more about this venture see the article by Valerie here.

Valerie Sinason

“For me from the age of 4, poems have contained me and enriched me right up until now. When anything major happens in my life I know I have not processed it until I have written a poem about it. It is the fact that poetry is so precious for me as a process that makes me love providing workshops for others, whether in prisons, hospices, schools or colleagues!”

That Child

That child in the back row
Tired from the paper round
Sips his school milk
And shrinks..

His book is open at the wrong page
It is the wrong book too
He fills his pen with failure
A slow inkstain covers all..

I am looking at the stars of skin
That stare through his shirt
And never shine…

I am looking at his small clenched fist
That lies on the desk
Like a paperweight
Nothing hops, skips, jumps..

I place him by the radiator
Like a frozen bird
Feed words to him
Like soft tiny crumbs

His glazed eyes flicker and die
His small mouth cannot open

Sometimes the classroom dies in ink

Valerie Sinason

(Published in Inkstains and Stilettos, Headland Publications, 1986)

Phyllis Klein

“Writing poetry helps us cope with trauma. It provides a safe container for brokenness, brings the alchemy of creativity into what is experienced as despair, and allows us to understand deeper often unconscious threads that connect us to ourselves. By allowing the poem to go where it wants, we can discover healing through authenticity of thought, emotion, and embodied senses. And when the poem connects to readers’ or listeners’ emotions and needs, healing also occurs in that connection. Poetry is meant to be read aloud as well as silently. This can deepen the impact and music in the words.”

She Was Alone

                        “Jeni Haynes’ Army, 60 Minutes, Australia

She was alone like an iceberg, but not too frozen
for her father to hurt. He assaulted her at four almost
breaking her. Body, a crime scene. Mind, a disjunction.

Every day of her childhood. We know about it now because
she went to court. She was alone like a volcano on a fault
line, sitting there facing him, barbarian in a chair. Enjoying

her affliction. A gargoyle. He’s going to prison now. She did
the impossible. Didn’t erupt or sink him with an icy gash to his side.
Didn’t smack him in the face. Found a detective who believed her.

A detective who can cry. She made an army, a republic of her, to stay real
while her criminal father tortured her. There are Muscles and Erik
in charge, but it’s a democracy, a nation of her. Alters, fragments, back

room boiler boys and girls and notgirls. Voting on every important issue.
Symphony testified first. Still four years old. Remembering
in detail. She was alone, a seed planted in a desolate desert.

Until the others, so many she would never be alone again, surrounded
by their palm fronds, cassia bushes, cactus guards, soothing aloe veras.
Her body a crime scene, what he did to her, how she paid with her organs

in ruins, no babies ever for her. He is going to prison for a long
time, her father. And everyone will know what he did.
How he violated her territory. He told her she was ugly, every

day tried to ruin her. Tried but couldn’t. He was a giant next to her
meager body. Bathroom tormenter. How she fought him, fought him.
What he would never see on her wintry wounded skin.

Excellent, breathtaking, outstanding beauty, had to go under
cover, beneath a waterline to her underside, shrouded.
Her residence of power. She opened the door for other split

people to have their days in court. We bow to her, association of Jeni,
society, territory, unionized, incorporated, ablaze.

Phyllis Klein from The Full Moon Herald

Ericha Scott
“This poem wrote itself while I was washing my hands in the sink. I was thinking about women’s ways of being through the span of a lifetime, across generations, space and time. I was thinking about apocalyptic movies and end time messages embedded in our culture. I needed grounding and I did that through my connection to history and poetry. I felt strengthened by my poem. I felt placed in perspective and context – the limitations and possibilities – of a human life.

I use poems with clients, workshop participants and students. When teaching associate fellows for the Andrew Weil, MD program I was told by one doctor who had lost family members in a car wreck, “I was healed more in this poetry workshop than during years of talk therapy”.”


On this day I am a washer woman

On this day, I carry the dead
and on the next, I carry water for the living

In this life, I am a listener, speaker and record keeper
In other lives I have been the same
through time and epochs

In this life, the story is mine and not mine

In every life I have been enchanted by beauty and honesty

This is this and that is that.

Ericha Scott

Jan Ewing

“Poetry became more central in my life as I struggled as a clinician to communicate the often seemingly ineffable resonances and understanding I was feeling when working together with my highly traumatised clients. While just saying I understood seemed trite and meaningless, I often found myself moved to communicate by poetry. We discovered together that the poems had far greater meaning, depth and authenticity for them and they felt less alone. That seemed magical to me and led to me rediscovering my love of the poetry of others.”


How do I know where truth lies?
How do I know if I’m here?
The mirrors of my childhood
Created only fear
How do I know if I exist?
Or if I’m counterfeit?
If I reject their versions
They say I’m ‘out of it’.

I have tried to make my way
To be who lives inside
The mirrors of my childhood
Told me that I had died
Each time I try to show myself
It seems I am unseen
Each time I try to be myself
It seems I am unclean

Perhaps my shame is who I am
Perhaps it’s all my fault
The mirrors of my childhood
Rejected all revolt
Perhaps I should accept
That they know best of all
Perhaps I should have always known
To rise is but to fall

And yet you tell me they are wrong
And that I should believe
Your mirror of the innocence

You’ll help me to retrieve
The lost reflections of my youth
The ones that don’t distort
The knowing that this me is real
And that I can’t be bought

The mirrors of my childhood
Cut deeply in my mind
The mirrors of my childhood
Make me too hard to find
And yet I know you see me
In all my splits and pain
Your mirror is my inner truth
Which no words can explain

If only you would go away
And leave me less confused
Your mirror makes too aware
Of all the things refused
And yet I’m glad you stay by me
And hold for me some hope
I know that you will be with me
While I learn how to cope

For slowly now I see that I
Can truly hold my place
The mirrors of my childhood
Are not my adult face
I no longer need to plead
For others to be fair
To understand that I deserve
To have an equal share