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A Welcome Letter from Our President

My introduction to “poetry” was by way of, what I consider, a non-traditional manner. While neither of my parents read or recited poetry to us as children, my father made it a regular practice to recite nursery rhymes as a way to teach us to play with the sound and music of language. Perhaps his training as a professional singer had attracted him to this form of “poetry.” I was further taught that words could convey nonsensical ideas, that arose from my vivid imagination, and had a respected place to reside. I don’t remember putting any of these thoughts down on paper but I do remember looking at ordinary things and renaming them with unusual, metaphorical meaning. Looking back, I see now that these simple rhymes introduced me to the seedlings of poetry through onomatopoeia in “Baa, Baa Black sheep;” simile in “Twinkle, twinkle, little star;” alliteration in “Hickory, Dickory, Dock;” and “action poetry” through “Pat a Cake, Pat a Cake.”  I must admit that I still use “Thirty Days Hath September” when figuring out how many days there are in a given month.

Catherine Conway, NAPT PresidentAs I developed language skills, I would read the Little Golden Book versions of fairy tales. They were, most often written by Disney, which offered the sanitized version of historical folk and fairy tales and always gave me a happy ending. As my reading skills matured, I would continue to gravitate toward fairy tales but, focused on the more gory and horrifying tales written by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. I realized later that they were not particularly written for the young reader and there wasn’t always a happy ending. After reading their works and, many years later, one book of Stephen King’s, I had nightmares and have avoided reading that genre altogether. I had hoped to write my own fairy tales but never pursued the discipline of writing on a regular basis.

I have discovered that writing is an art and one to be practiced on a consistent basis. I’ve always held onto my love of language and dream of becoming a writer in spite of the lack of output. Eventually, the desire to write resurfaced. I took a writing class at a local community college and wrote my first poem, “Reflecting 40.” I read it to the class and the response was very gratifying. One classmate wanted to give a copy to his wife for a birthday poem as she turned 40. At the end of the class the professor wrote a summary of my semester’s achievements and started her commentary with “you are a writer... what you do with your gift is up to you.”

A few years later my writing was further validated by my therapist when I was a part of a women’s support group. I thought I could not journal correctly because my reflections took the form of poetry. I thought my work sounded crazy but the therapist said it was so profound that I should read it five times more. I left that group thinking, “I wish there was something like poetry therapy.” 

Someone once said, “be careful what you wish for...” I discovered through John Fox’s book, “Finding What You Didn’t Lose,” that not only did poetry therapy exist but, there was an entire organization devoted to the discipline. I remember telling my husband, “I don’t know what this is all about, but I’m joining.”  I, subsequently, registered for an “Intensive,” facilitated by Ken Gorelick & Peggy Heller and continued training with them for the poetry therapy certification while attending graduate school for a Master’s in Clinical Psychology.

It is unbelievable that with this year’s membership renewal, I will be a part of the National Association for Poetry Therapy for 15 years. I have made many wonderful friends, learned much about the healing power of poetry, journaling and creative writing and have enriched my life beyond my wildest dreams. Through NAPT, I have met my favorite poet-hero, presented workshops in regional and national conferences, integrated poetry therapy groups into a hospital chemical dependency treatment program, developed and co-facilitated “Write From the Heartland” retreats in Chicago and am on the planning board of a pioneering, clinical/expressive arts program for veterans of all wars and their families (VetCAT), in partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College.

When I first started my journey toward poetry therapy, I never imagined I would be addressing you as President of this dynamic and extraordinary organization. I often tell people who believe life is a linear journey, that I am one who prefers to take the “scenic route.” I have found that it offers countless opportunities to discover life’s hidden possibilities. I invite you to begin your own journey toward poetry therapy and the many other forms of expressive and creative writing for personal and professional growth, self-expression and healing. Join our organization today,  and reap the rewards and benefits of membership offered such as our Journal for Poetry Therapy, “Museletter,” online networking groups, webinars, and conferences. We look forward to discovering the continued possibilities of the healing power of poetry and the written word in partnership with you.

Catherine Conway, LCPC, CPT, CADC


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