Processing Trauma Through Poiesis
We are excited to have Sue Cunningham, who is acclaimed by Dan Allender as the officially-unofficial Poet Laureate of the Allender Center, back with us. In this discussion, we’re taking on the term “poiesis,” which comes from the Greek word “to make” and is related to “poetry.”
At the Allender Center, we believe that writing and telling your story is an essential part of the process of understanding and processing traumatic experiences. We explore how poetry relates to this process in our conversation with Sue Cunningham, Dan Allender, and Rachael Clinton Chen. They also discuss the effects of the creative process on the brain and the power of using descriptive language to make meaning.
We encourage you, our listeners, to be bold this week and try writing some poetry to see what insights you can gain from the experience.
Sue invites us: “Will you have the courage to just say one true thing? And whether it’s like you speak it and I’ll write it down for you and then give it to you, or you scribble it in a journal or you write it on the back of a napkin, anything to say, it’s honoring, you matter. You exist.”
About Our Guest:
With more than 30 years of experience, Sue Cunningham has walked alongside and listened to the stories of countless women and men across the United States and around the world. Sue is committed to discerning God’s movement, providing practical guidance in the present and God’s hope for the future. Her work centers around becoming more human and healing from trauma by engaging stories. She has a private practice, is on staff with The Allender Center, and writes poetry. Sue and her husband John live in Fresno, California, and are the parents of two adult children.
- Listen to one of our very first podcasts with Sue and Dan and hear more about her story.
- Curious about pursuing your own story work? Learn more about and apply to one of our Story Workshops.
Dan: One of my favorite guests that we have on, never enough, but enough that our audience should, well, might recognize the name Sue Cunningham. What I would consider are poet laureate of the Allender Center, and a brilliant therapist, a brilliant teacher, and a spiritual director. So Sue, Rachael, and I welcome you. So glad to have you with us.
Sue: Thank you. It’s so fun to be here. And I humbly accept as poet laureate.
Dan: And we’re so blessed actually to have so many gifted poets among us, Campbell, Jill, many others. So to be one of the voices of our engagement, just to warn people, we are talking poetry, but we’re going to make it a little more dramatic. And that is, I want to introduce the word poiesis. Don’t ask me to spell it. My fourth grade teacher told me I can’t spell so I’m not going to bother. But poiesis is where we somewhat get the word poetry. And the word oasis has the notion of bringing something into existence that did not exist before. It is a blooming, that’s the word Heidegger used to talk about oasis a flowering, a coming into reality of what may not have been able to be voiced or understood until this new creation occurs. But what we’re inviting, Sue and you, Rachael, to engage is the importance of creativity, in this case poiesis, in addressing trauma. So we’re not just a little highfalutin, so-called elite conversation on the importance of poetry, though it is, it’s also an invitation to know that we need to be reading poetry if we have been traumatized, and we need to put our fingers and hands to the process of trying to put words to the reality of what we are enduring. So Sue, welcome to that conversation. Where do you want to lead us?
Sue: Well, I think I first want to start out by saying, like you were saying, poetry is, I mean, it’s a art. There’s people that are really scared of it cause they think it’s inaccessible and they think it’s too high for them. But poetry really is grounded in feelings and experience. And so all the poets that I know that have the most successful poems, if you want to put it that way, or the most, the poems that catch you are they’re usually working through something. It’s like any writing you get on the page to work through something. And so most poetry, it starts in one place and it leaves you in another. So it’s really a journey. It’s a process. And that’s really how I started writing poetry after doing years of story work was like, how can I express myself in a way that is emotional but uses so many fewer words because I didn’t have words. And that’s what happens in trauma is we lose language. And so the thought of using fewer words to actually say more.
Dan: Yeah. Well, in that sense, if we think of prose, and that’s just normal writing, just a definition of it is just normal writing. It usually sequential with sentences that follow another that makes sentences, paragraphs, et cetera. And again, it’s too simplistic, but it’s a good beginning to say it’s left brain activity. And what happens, we know with any trauma is that the left frontal lobe, particularly broca’s area, goes offline. And the scramble to try to get sense, make sense, make meaning oftentimes collapses under the fragmentation of our experience of trauma. So in some sense, poetry, again, not an adequate definition, but arises more in the right hemisphere, more in the body. And so in that light, it’s an engagement with what we know, the right hemisphere holds images, more metaphor, where the reality is syntax is almost always somewhat in inelegant or broken, where we know time and situation is often not explicated, not the primary category. And prose tries to make sense in some deeper sense. Poetry is an invitation to a meaning that we don’t know, but we need to explore in order to come to that. But one of the things I hear from people is just, I don’t get poetry. It doesn’t make any sense to me. And it’s like, oh yeah, life, you mean. So that process is the invitation into the fact that as you put it so well, that poetry is evocative versus primarily clarifying, explaining, or justifying poetry really is an invitation to the body in fragmentation to the deeper images, to a meaning that is not sense oriented, but sensually oriented. Is that, do you find that ringing true?
Rachael: No, I was more just, I was thinking about what, what are the poems that, because I struggle with poetry, which I’m not too surprised by because my art is more homiletics, which I think is somewhere in between poetry and prose. It’s just speaking, it’s different than writing. So that’s all I’m saying, Dan, you’re looking at me. What are you talking about? But I mean…
Dan: Your preaching is profoundly poetic.
Rachael: Okay, I guess I’m just thinking about my wedding ceremony where my husband had vows that were beautifully poetic, capturing everything they needed to capture in two minutes in the most beautiful language that was so full of meaning. And my vows, which I thought were two minutes, were 15 minutes. And I even quoted at theologian. So that’s all I’m saying.
Dan: No, no, no. I was there. I was literally in front of you. So you brought a book out, you had a book handed to you so you could read from the book. That’s a crazy, absolutely most wonderful set of vows I’ve ever heard.
Rachael: Yeah. No, but I’m really drawn to poetry and I have found it to be very healing. And I have found it in moments when I needed a way to communicate ache or longing, sorrow. And someone is providing words that, like you said, are evocative, provocative. And I think one of the things that’s fascinating to me is it feels like with poetry, you may be having a totally different experience than someone else, but still come to the same emotion. And that is so incredibly, the power of words to capture something of life. So I find myself incredibly grateful for the poets in my world and the ways in which they invite me to slow down. I find when I’m reading poetry, I have to really slow down because there’s so much meaning in every word. Yes. And like you said, through that journey, it could be a different journey every time with the same poem, which is also fascinating to me. And I’ve heard you say that even as you’ve, like when you read us poetry at the Allender Center in our offerings, in our midst, you often read a poem more than once. And that’s that experience to take something in and for it to be taken in differently each time. So that’s kind of where my thoughts were going. And just gratitude, because it is a labor of love. It is a labor, it’s a labor. Maybe it’s not, but maybe I’m putting something.
Sue: No, no, no. It’s the best poems are a labor. I mean, I think there is a fantasy. I mean, I’ve heard it happens that you just kind of get something from heaven, and there it is, and no revision, but it be the best poems you do labor over because every word does matter. Because again, we’re talking about just stripping it down, stripping down to the essence, and the beautiful thing really is, like all art, once you put it into the world, it can mean anything to anyone at any time. Even different, as you said, when you read a poem one day and then you pick it up again six months or six years later, it’s a completely different thing, which is the beauty of the beauty of it, because it’s, like the scriptures, they’re living and active and they move within us, and we’re invited to do that. I mean, as you’ve said multiple times, both of you, the Bible is full of poetry for good reason.
Dan: Yeah. We think of it primarily with regard to the Psalms, which rightfully we do. But if you’re reading almost all the prophets, it’s not to say that there is exclusive poetry, but it’s largely poetic and intended to be back to that word, angular, disruptive, evocative, and some sense creating distress or comfort in the presence of language that does not fit the same kind of cadence as first and second kings, first and second Chronicles, et cetera. So even though the Bible is 70% story, another way of saying it is you can hardly engage story without some poetic power in terms of engaging the heartache of life. So what I’d love to do is just to then make that shift to how do you see the engagement of poiesis, this creation, this artistic creation that we’re primarily talking about with regard to poetry, but could be sculpture, could be painting, could be dance, could be, I mean, the world of creating through imagination, a engagement with reality and creating even reality within reality. I just want to come back to say we’re primarily talking poetry, but how do you see this as part of the engagement with trauma?
Sue: I see it as this bid for human connection. And that’s what I love about the scriptures. That’s one of the things I love about, I love God so much because God puts it in there, I think to give us a sense of belonging that this human connection, it’s like it’s an emotional experience because that’s important. And we connect with each other over time, over cultures. And I think that it’s just such part of our humanity that gets fed and nourished and comforted and challenged. You’re mentioning the prophets and a lot of poetry is very prophetic. I have this volumes of poetry that are poetry of protest, and a lot of song lyrics are in the same way. It’s like they’re anthems and they call us to rise up, and they call us to action. And so there’s so many different emotions, so many different uses for poetry, but those are just some of them protesting comfort and love and solace and questioning, lamentation, just so many, every emotion, anger, rage, poetry is like a container. And we’ve talked a lot about containment, but poetry or the structure, even the structure of a formal poem like a sonnet or a haiku or a villain, a very specific container within that container, the world exists. So it’s a huge thing in a very contained space.
Dan: And how it’s maybe too early to ask this, but as you engage trauma in your own life and the lives of those who are privileged to work with, how does the poetic imagination play?
Sue: Well, that’s a great question. I will say it allows this not having to know. We would all say that when we sit in front of someone, if we think we’re going to figure them out, that’s pretty much the beginning on the end.
Dan: Yeah. Yeah. Just close the door. Yeah, leave your hubris aside. Just close the door.
Sue: But if you say, this person in front of me has a story, they have a soul, they have things they’re afraid of and things that they’re excited about and proud of, but we don’t know what it is. We’re going to just travel through it. And poetry has really helped me travel through my own story, but the poets have helped me have the enough courage to stay in my story and stay with my creativity and stay with and not just veil.
Dan: And Rachael, how would you address that question as well?
Rachael: Well, it’s so interesting because when we were first starting and you said poiesis and the engagement of trauma, that we can’t engage trauma without poetry. Actually, where I went was thinking about story work is such a wrestling with, I did, I’ve never thought about it as poetic or poiesis, but the laboring with someone to find truer words that hold dynamic meaning maybe often when we’re doing story work, someone might use a certain word to describe a parent or an experience they’ve had and something, and you goes, ah. And even they could say, okay, that’s true enough, but it’s not quite right. And again, is the labor that linear or that direct? No. But it’s bearing witness to what someone has suffered to find a truer word to capture not only the suffering, but also their beauty, the particularity of their beauty that’s been often born out of suffering. So I was thinking about that, and I was thinking about how sometimes, yeah, I think I already said this, so if I’m being redundant, I apologize. But just, how when someone doesn’t have the words and that in some ways to ask them to do labor, to find the words in the moment almost feels cruel. But if, but where they can not even borrow, where they can like unfold into something and say, this. This is a way I can express myself. And when I first started therapy, my first therapist always brought a lot of poetry to our therapeutic engagements. She’d be like, I thought of you with something you shared last week with this poem. And that was probably some of my first true engagement with really in my body, experiencing the power of poetry and a different kind of rest as someone who was always demanded to find words and expected to find words and expected to have the right words and powerful words and evocative words. And so to be able to be in a session trying to articulate my pain and not having to do that kind of labor because somebody else has done it in their own pain. And then like you said, Sue, but then it also calling me to do the work, to find words and to find my own words in time. But when I need that expression so someone can see me, that you can almost go, here. And I think all a lot of art is like that. You don’t have to say it because you can feel it and you can invite someone to the feeling, to the experience.
Sue: Yes. Yes. Okay. I just have to say two things that are just so perfect. If you notice on the page a page of poetry, usually you’ll see a lot of white space. And the white space is just as important, if not more important than the actual letters. And that space is for silence. And I have noticed when I work with people, when I’m quiet, when I’m silent, when I’m not in a hurry, I don’t think I’ve ever had the person I was sitting with not drop in and say more of what they wanted to say. So that silence, that waiting is so important to say we’re not in a hurry. There’s really fun things you can do with enjambment and kind of cliff hangers on one line that bring you to the next line. But in the poetry, the rhythm of it, the movement of it on the page is very much when you’re listening to someone telling their story. And when we’re quiet as we listen to say, I don’t need to fill up every single bit of air with words, I can let there be white space it, it’s transformative. Okay. And then one other thing that you said is, I really think part of my calling is just listening to people and giving their own words back to them. So when I meet with people, and good thing about zoom is it’s very easy to, I have my legal pad and I just write down what people say, and I look for the poetry. And they’re not trying to be poetic, they’re just speaking, but I know what I’m looking for and I can hear the poetry. And when I give it back to them, I’ll often say, did you hear what you just said? And they’ll be like, no, what? And they’ll say to them, and I’m like, do you want to say more? Or That is so poetic, or I just want to stand up and cheer. When you put it like that in your way with your language, and that’s the beautiful thing about poetry, any art, you can only do it your way. Your voice needs to be said. So when people give me a line and it’s their line, and I hold it up to them and say, it’s beautiful, even if it is tragic and heartbreaking, there is beauty there. And I know you know what I’m talking about.
Dan: I think that is maybe one of the most important intersections that you’re holding death and resurrection, brokenness and stunning beauty, together. And normally in any degree of trauma, we simply internally and often relationally, divide, fragment. And something of poetry’s somewhat structure fragmentation allows me to get closer to actually the fragmentation within me and begin to have a sense that there is meaning beauty, there is life still ahead, which is why I love Heidegger’s use of the word poiesis is again blossoming. It may be a blossoming of horror. It’s not all good news, but it’s an uncovering of what sometimes mere prose cannot quite get to. Well, I wonder if you’d put words to some of your own writing poet laureate and invite us into something of how it came to be through the category of trauma.
Sue: Yeah, yeah. I would love to. So all four of my grandparents survived the Armenian genocide and also did not talk about it. And so my whole life, I always felt like I have these stories and they’re so dramatic and I don’t really know them, but they’re important. They’re in me, but I don’t know how to access them. And I was aware that I wanted to tell the story, but I didn’t know how. And so, I mean, decades go by, decades go by, I’ve been doing story work, just all the things. And one year I realized I’m going to say it through poetry, and so I’m going to use my imagination. And I gave myself permission to write the stories that I knew, but I didn’t know. And that’s the courage that it takes. Because if you write your prose and you guys both referenced academics and books and quotes, when someone reads my poetry, are they going to say like, no, you’re wrong… that didn’t, that’s not right? That’s not the way you approach a poem. You approach a poem to say, I’m not going to this. It’s not an entry in a dictionary, or you’re not reading encyclopedia. You’re having an emotional experience. And honestly, for some people it’s like an emotional experience. No, wrong. We don’t want that. But I’d say, oh my gosh, that’s probably why there’s so much pain upon pain. It’s like, cause we need emotional experiences to access stuff. So I started writing poetry, and I’ll read this one. And it actually does have an epigraph that is a quote, and it’s called Who Speaks After All. And the epigraph is from Adolf Hitler from August 22nd, 1939, “Who speaks after all, who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians, Adolf Hitler. My grandmother would not tell How did she escaped massacre hot on the heels of her mother, father, sister, brother, thrust into Syria naked mouths full of swollen sand. Father’s Turkish friend stashed her. When did she scrape together her disguise? How did she bolt? She wouldn’t speak of bullet blown boys or girls in braids hanged on crosses. Unlike Jews, we don’t tell our secrets. No words in the mother tongue. Armenians choose dead silence to survive. Only once did Grandma tell Mommy, promise me you will never speak my secret. Daughters cannot betray their mother-land. And dark brown beauty marks on three generations high on our cheeks like kisses or stings.”
Dan: How to do a podcast and honor what feels like the right and the righteous response, which is mostly to wail. And perhaps a question that as you read, as you are the creator of those words, what is it that you find yourself coming to the fact that Hitler speaks and your grandmother doesn’t? That alone is enough to make me want to scream. And that he speaks in a way in which he’s ultimately saying, no one’s going to be too troubled about the Jewish Holocaust because we already have the evidence. No one spoke about the Armenian Holocaust. So the tortures intersection between his speech and your grandmother and your mother, and that you are breaking this silence, just how your heart is, as in some sense, you stand face to face with evil and incarnate Hitler and say, I will speak.
Sue: Yeah, that’s been such a place of ambivalence because these sort of prophetic poems to say, okay, I’ll speak even though it feels wrong to speak. My grandmother made my mother promise, my mother promised her grandmother. She wouldn’t tell me. I actually begged her. I mean, I wanted to know the stories, but there’s so much mistrust. What are you going to do with them? It’s just the trauma. And then learning not that long ago what you just said about broca’s area. And so maybe she couldn’t speak, maybe she lost language. And so the empathy and not just the judgment, I’ve had to go to move from judgment out of my own disappointment to compassion, to say, I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t speak because they couldn’t because they were traumatized and they had no language. And so even being the granddaughter who wants to speak it all, it’s very complicated and there’s a ton of ambivalence. And I have wondered if I’m betraying them or honoring them. And my heart is that I honor them, but you can feel the tension.
Dan: Well, and poetry in that sense creates the tension in a way in which there are questions being asked that can’t be answered. And yet the story has enough continuity in terms of a Turkish caregiver. How did your grandmother come up with a disguise? So there are narrative overlays, but in that, you’re ultimately saying the story can never be told. But I will not let that inability maybe combined with refusal, because she did tell one person, but implied is the silencing of shame to keep that story from actually passing generationally so that it could be radically disrupted. But is it accurate? Am I in the ballpark to say, you are a disruptor.
Sue: That would be accurate, yes. Cause I mean, not everyone wants to read poems about genocide. Who wants to, I mean who wants to write poems about people being tortured. And so in some ways it is. Yeah, it’s a disruption. It’s a huge disruption.
Dan: But when we speak about, I often talk about the second Corinthians for passage where Paul says, “I carry about always in my body the death of Jesus.” We cannot carry the body of Jesus if we are not carrying the bodies of those who proceed and who die even when we are here. And that sense of you have to uncover, there has to be over time, an engagement with uncovering. The poetry is not what Plato hated was the concept of menexenus, that it’s a representation. And at least in Plato’s Republic, he excluded poets. You would never have been allowed to live in the polis because you’re a poet, because he saw it as so disruptive by drawing out the body, the reality of the unsaid. It’s messy, it’s dirty to engage these categories. But again, there is something in that that feels not just real, but profoundly hopeful in the despair. Is that a fair way again, to put it?
Sue: Yeah, that’s why, I mean, if you’ll notice in a lot of political arenas, they take the poets, they take the intellectuals first. We don’t want to have the people… That’s why even when we’re talking about censorship and who gets to speak, get rid of the people who the artists get rid of the people who are prophetically speaking so that we don’t have to be distracted.
Rachael: Telling graphic, asking us to look and to see even in the mystery and even in the untold, even in what can’t actually be known. And I think that’s what I felt when you were reading that I couldn’t look away and I was both so deeply haunted. And also that’s what felt so deeply honoring as well to your grandparents and your great-grandparents. Like, do not look away. Even if we can’t find the words, even if we’re ashamed to tell, don’t let what Hitler is saying be true.
Dan: Let abusers gaslight, silence, shame, shut you down. There’s something in all forms of creativity, there’s something defiant to say, not just I will rise out of this suffering, but I will actually enter it more deeply. Ultimately saying at some level, by entering it, there is something that is able to say, I will not let this determine who I am and how I will be in the presence of life in its goodness. So without entering death, there is no possibility of entering life.
Rachael: Well, and I think I just wanted to say that I also experienced a quantum moment because what, who you are describing in the poem is a very defiant woman who is fighting for life. And here you are, a few generations removed alive because of that defiant fight for life. And so you get to speak the words that couldn’t be spoken then, but it feels like an ancestral impartation.
Sue: I love that. I love that. I love that, Rachael. I have a picture of my grandmother in my, I call it my sanctuary where I work. And I do want to live out the way she survived, and I have channeled her some of my homes to live out what she did. Yeah.
Dan: So for you both the question of, how do you invite people to read the kind of poetry that will open the door, and how do you invite people to write poetry that gives them a chance to come into their trauma with both that defiant courage with an entry into a deepened level of darkness, but in that a renewal that I will not be bound to silence. How do we invite people to read? How do we invite people to write?
Sue: Well, I think one of the ways we invite it is by living it. And as you well know, and may mean what makes it so hard to face to look like, Rachael, I love the way you said that of I kind of want to look away, but I don’t want to look away. And isn’t that the truth of our stories? And if we can have just a little more courage than fear, not a lot, just a little, it only takes a little more courage than fear to not look away than we can, then we can listen for what’s the next thing that needs to be said. Doesn’t all need to be said at once, but we can listen for the next thing.
Rachael: That’s right.
Dan: I also find, find a poet, and you don’t need to master that poet’s work, but begin to let yourself follow the language, follow the cadence, follow the beauty and the disruption. And I think there are many poets, but I would recommend Gerard Manley Hopkins and particularly in the context of talking about trauma, the wreck of the Deutschland, which is considered one of his most famous poems, his own agony after five nuns drowned in 1875. And that war with God is so in many ways it’s a psalm not quite in the language, nor in the structure most Psalms are written. But it, it’s an effort to come to grips with how do I who believe, engage a God who allows some of his remarkable servants to die in this particular way. So as we’ve said, much of poetry begins in the questions we have and the trauma we have. And even though it doesn’t provide answers, it evokes. So at least to say, what poets would you both recommend if there are some that jump out? And what I would say is I can’t wait for Sue Cunningham’s work to eventually be…
Sue: Oh, may it be. So I have a poem here from Rainier Maria Rilke, and he wrote, a lot of people know him from letters to a young poet that is actually prose, but of course very poetic. But I’m going to read this. It’s it’s brief, but you will see the imagery and just see how it makes you guys feel. Ok. And this is translated from the German. Pushing Through. “It’s possible I’m pushing through solid rock in flint like layers as the ore lies alone. I am such a long way in, I see no way through and no space. Everything is close to my face and everything close to my face is stone. I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief. So this massive darkness makes me small. You be the master, make yourself fierce, break in, then your great transforming will happen to me. And my great grief cry will happen to you.
Dan: Oh my. The intersection of coldness, darkness, stone that cannot be cut. What a brilliant engagement with what feels like the suffocation of grief. And in that process, the cry for presence. Yeah. Again, I find myself not far from howling as part of my response.
Sue: I was going to say, have you ever felt like this?
Dan: Yes. Not very long ago.
Rachael: Well, I feel cheesy saying this because I don’t know. I feel like maybe everyone loves Mary Oliver. And is it like, okay, it’s kind of like when you like a band that everyone loves, and then people that are really cool are like, well, I dated someone one time, it was like, I don’t like Radiohead anymore because they’re too mainstream. And I was like, okay, that would be cool. So at the Seattle School, we joke because there was a lot of Mary Oliver, so I feel a little sheepish. But there’s a poem I come back to time and time and time and time again, that to me has really spoken to some of multiple journeys into different stories and different traumas. And it’s called, Now Comes the Long Blue Cold, “Now comes the long blue cold, and what shall I say? But that some bird in the tree of my heart is singing that same heart that only yesterday was a room shut tight without dreams. Isn’t it wonderful? The cold wind and spring in the heart, inexplicable darling girl, pick luck.”
Sue: No, I love Mary Oliver. Let Mary Oliver be celebrated
Dan: And to be critical because she’s so powerful is a form of mere envy. Yeah. But that’s part of the issue of there’s so many poets that I find myself, when I get that one word, that one phrase and something feels unlocked. And because I spend a great deal of my time in prose, I feel a certain envy. Like, ugh, yet thank you. Oh, I wish I could. But thank you for what you have offered. And that ability then to tend, well, we want you to be reading and mentioned a few folks, but we also want you writing because there is in that the first and foremost war that I encounter for most people, including myself, is the issue of comparison. I’m not that good of a poet. It’s not that good of a, and it’s like, well, who gives a flying poopie? See how constrained I am?
Sue: How poetic you in fact are.
Rachael: I actually think that’s a great title of a poem. Who gives a flying poopie?
Dan: So the fact of will you let your heart enter into something of the frustration of finding language? And it may take multiple iterations before that moment comes that there really is, and I believe it is not just a conceptual, it’s an actual body release of something of that’s been held in and in some sense is circulating in a way in which it only creates a greater foulness. So that moment when some release occurs, there really is a clearing, a kind of blossoming again. And so how do you invite people to write?
Sue: I want to read something that I wrote that shows that wrestling, and when I invite people to write, it’s more like, will you have the courage to just say one true thing? And whether it’s like you speak it and I’ll write it down for you and then give it to you, or you scribble it in a journal or you write it on the back of a napkin, anything to say, it’s honoring, you matter. You exist. And also there is struggle. There is tension because as you said, anytime we try to create, we’re the most godlike. And we also come up against the most opposition. So this is a poem I wrote that I think that you’ll maybe see the layers of meaning. It’s called Cure Worse Than Disease. “I want to control love, master it like I would manage chronic illness, wrestle the fatigue, obsess what ails me until I exhaust what fails me. Defenseless am I without immunities susceptible to more infection, more affection, affliction. I want to pressure, love, restrain and ruin every ounce of intrigue while I wallow in it, swallow it into submission. I mean remission.”
Dan: Both incredibly powerful and hilarious.
Sue: I’m glad you get it.
Dan: I am going to love, but unfortunately for you, I got to eat you.
Dan: Which in some sense, in the paradox and play of that, it’s like, oh my gosh. Again, it’s an uncovering. And we all know those portions of moments. I feel it more sometimes with my children. I’m going to love you and you’re going to know it. And the antithesis of love is control. And yet love is so important that it feels like there’s nothing else to do but to be in control. And the bind is what you have allowed the language to hold. But again, with a lot of humor in that.
Sue: Well, that’s the thing about knowing our stories and knowing what where we’ve been traumatized is often where we want to exert the most control. So where I feel out of control in relationships, I want to control so that I can have what I think I need. But then of course it’s a disaster. So yes, this, it’s all part of that. And creating is all in that realm.
Dan: Well, as we come to an end, any final thoughts, Rachael?
Rachael: Honestly, maybe for the first time in my life, I think in college I wrote poetry for a while I was, had some angsty things. I was working out. I look at them now and I have to be very gracious. So that’s okay for another story, for another day. But I think I am just feeling very inspired actually to want to write poetry. And I’m in a season where, I mean, I am a new mom of a tiny baby. I am just so many things. And I found myself sitting here in this conversation being like, well, you guys have convinced me to drive poetry. So well done. So I think I want to really get in the dirt a little bit and see what comes out. And writing is such a struggle for me. And so there’s something about maybe getting to step away from prose that is actually feeling very liberating and inspiring. So all of a sudden I’m like, I think there’s some things I need to move through my body. And I’ve been trying to find a way to get them out. And I’ve been, in a good way, some body movement stuff because that’s good for me. But I’m such a word person and I think there’s some words that need to get out. So thank you. I feel really grateful.
Dan: Yeah, I find the same. I was telling Sue before, I’ve been in process of preparing to do a eulogy for a dear friend, and I’ve written a lot mostly about him and our relationship. And there was just something that in the writing prose was important for me to engage. But I go back to that image of there was something that was not released, something that felt even in the writing. I was getting more and more tight and large measure because of this podcast. I just thought, well, put your computer down and pick up a pen and see if you can begin to put just a few words. So what I wrote was “words litter the ground, like empty bottles of swill. Your life can’t be held in my grief drunken hands, but I will stand shaking in grief to speak the fragrance of your intoxicating life.” Just putting words…
Sue: Dan! Wait, stop.
Sue: Just stop. Silence. We need, oh my gosh. Rachael, what does that do to you?
Rachael: I just feel like we get to see you, Dan, but we also get to see the man you’re trying to capture something of, and it just feels really holy and agonizing.
Sue: Yeah. And you’ve given us access through the imagery of litter and bottles and intoxication and drunken grief. It’s just, it’s so, you’re giving us something we can hold onto these images. Cause grief is so amorphous, but we know what it’s like to hold a bottle or to throw down a piece of trash. So I mean, it’s beautiful.
Dan: Thank you. And for me, what it did was it gave me a sense of I want that podium, I want that microphone. I am so privileged to be one of the ones to speak about Len’s life, but I’m ready. I mean, if it were today, if it were this instant, I could rise to do it up to that moment until being able to have something of that release. There was more a sense of, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I cannot do it. And it’s not the issue of I can’t bear the grief, I can’t bear the responsibility. It’s more like, I don’t know what I want to say until something of the word intoxicating life came. So I think again, for you listeners, we may not have convinced you, but at least to let the reality that trauma cannot only be addressed from the left hemisphere is the invitation that we need artists, we need poets, we need to paint, and we need to write. Thank you both.