This year I was a first time attendee at the NAPT Annual Conference and this was my first time in America. The theme of the conference was Poetry Therapy in a changing world: Pathways to Growth, Healing and Social Justice and was held at the Conference Centre in Chaska, Minneapolis.
I arrived a day early to take part in the pre-conference event - walking and poetic expression at the Minnesota landscape Arboretum with Geri Chavis and Alison Johnson. We also walked around McKnight Lake and that was the first time that I felt a spiritual connection with the people and the land. What a peace filled place. I could almost feel the presence of the Chippewa tribe that settled there because the water was life- giving.
I felt moved to write this haiku:
I have travelled
have found my tribe, my people
The opening event was an entertaining talk by Poet and Lyricist Michael Dennis Brown entitled 'The mischief of poetry'
There was a choice of various workshops during the day and each workshop filled me with inspiration. The first keynote speaker was Nicholas Mazza founder and current editor of Journal of Poetry Therapy. He spoke about the 3 components in the Poetry Therapy Practice model:
- The receptive/prescription component introduces literature
- The expressive/ creative component uses writing in therapeutic capacities
- The Symbolic/ ceremonial component uses metaphors, rituals, and storytelling
I found the other conference attendees , who came from all over America, warm and generous. They had a diverse range of working practices which they wanted to share with me and for which I was grateful.
I have always wanted to visit America all my life because when I was a child my life was coloured by my love of the stories of the American Cowboys and Indians. I played at being an Indian never thinking I would ever meet one of their descendants. One evening there was a panel discussion on social justice. One of the panelists was Rebecca Rosepke a descendant of the Cree Indigenous people, a therapist and social field instructor at the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Centre. She is committed to challenging 'traditional' ( i.e. Western medical model) mental health practices and encouraging people to understand the healing traditions of their clients cultures. She infuses spoken words, written stories and metaphor into therapy and these arts also find their way into her teaching as a way to engage audiences and help them to empathise with those in situations they may have never considered.
On the last evening we had a performance by 'Ovation' choir and they sung a chant by the Chippewa in praise of the water. I am using this now to conclude my own workshops.
I was surprised the first morning at breakfast to see a beautiful red bird outside the window. I told Rebecca and she said he was a 'Spirit Messenger'. I will conclude now, though there are so many life affirming experiences I have had in America. I would like to share a poem I have written in rhyme , although I rarely write in this style thinking myself a Haijin (Haiku Poet), this is just how it came to me.
Gift from the past to the present
The Red Cardinal sings the sweetest song
on and on and on.
The song of his ancestors long gone.
They saw the Native American Indians
and mingled their blood with theirs
and watched over their toils and their cares.
Oh yes, they sing the songs of mystery
but the meaning is lost now in history.
Red bird you startled me
flitting by the window.
You came to say hello, I now know
and welcome in the spirit of hospitality.
On my last day you came again
fluttering from branch to branch
with a gentle songbird cry, safe journey, goodbye.
Pearl Elizabeth Dell May is an internationally known Haijin who seeks to promote the writing and teaching of Haiku. She is a founder member of the International Haiku Teachers Association. She works as a volunteer Therapeutic Poetry Facilitator at the MIND Well Being Centre, Southampton and is a Visiting Lecturer at Solent University, Arts and Design Faculty. A paper on the work done with people living with mental health issues was presented in April 2017 at an international Haiku Conference in Romania.