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Aphasia Access Conversations

How We’re Reducing Communication Barriers

Aphasia Access Conversations brings you the latest aphasia resources, tips, and aha moments from Life Participation professionals who deliver way more than stroke and aphasia facts. Topics include aphasia group treatment ideas, communication access strategies, plus ways for growing awareness and funds for your group aphasia therapy program. This podcast is produced by Aphasia Access.

Jun 22, 2021

Welcome to the Aphasia Access Conversations Podcast. I’m Jerry Hoepner, a faculty member in the department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. I am privileged to introduce today’s guest, Brendan Constantine. I’m excited to have a conversation with Brendan about his work with poetry for individuals with aphasia and related disorders. 


Brendan Constantine is a poet based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in many of the nation’s standards, including PoetryBest American Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Daily, Tin House, Ploughshares, Field, Virginia Quarterly, and Poem-a-Day.  His most recent collections are ‘Dementia, My Darling’ (2016) from Red Hen Press and ‘Bouncy Bounce’ (2018), a chapbook from Blue Horse Press. A new book, ‘The Opposites Game,’ is on the way.

He has received support and commissions from the Getty Museum, James Irvine Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A popular performer, Constantine has presented his work to audiences throughout the U.S. and Europe, also appearing on TED ED, NPR's All Things Considered, numerous podcasts, and YouTube. He holds an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and currently teaches at the Windward School. Since 2017 he has been working with speech pathologist Michael Biel to develop poetry workshops for people with Aphasia and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Take aways:

  1. Learn about Brendan’s poetry workshops for individuals with aphasia and traumatic brain injuries. 
  2. Hear about the work he has done with Michael Biel’s poetry group, the Chippewa Valley Aphasia Camp, and the Blugold Thursday Poetry Guild. 
  3. Learn how poetry can reveal competence, self-efficacy, confidence, and self-worth for poets with aphasia and brain injuries. 
  4. Hear examples of some of the poetry writing prompts and supports needed to facilitate successful outcomes. 
  5. Learn how poetry fits into the life participation approach. 
  6. Hear a few of the perceived outcomes from poets with aphasia and brain injuries. 

Interview Transcript: Note – a person with aphasia in the group calls Jerry “The Professor” and Brendan the “California Guy”, so we decided to keep it that way in the transcript. 

The Professor: All right, well hi Brendan good to see you. I’d say nice to see you again, but we just had poetry class together a few moments ago, so great to see you again five minutes ago. Yeah, we're glad to have you.

California Guy: So, yes, it's wonderful it's wonderful to see you again and yeah, we did just have a great class.

The Professor: Yeah, it's been a real treat and a real privilege to be a part of the poetry group so I’m excited to talk about that a little bit tonight and about some of your work and other poetry classes and workshops as well. So, shall we dive into it?

California Guy: yeah, absolutely okay.

The Professor: sounds good, well, maybe, before we start, I know you but not everyone does. Can you share a little bit about yourself, about your poetry about your teaching. That kind of stuff.

California Guy: I’m a poet, based in Los Angeles California born and raised and for roughly the last 25 to 26 years I’ve been making my living here as a poet, and the teacher identified as a poet first and the teacher second maybe because even though I’ve been doing it for a long time teaching still scares me, and I think of it is something that I do, in addition to writing permanently I’ve got or a collections of poetry in print and based on the way and a lot of publications in in national journals and I’ve been fortunate enough to have my work adapted for the screen and I’m doing I’m doing pretty well for a poet these days and trying to think what else I. I’ve been fortunate enough also that my work has been proven useful. That is to say that my poetry is taught in a lot of places and because it seems so conducive to teaching that's really how I got started with teaching was that began with people reaching out and asking if they could use phones in the classroom and then asking if I would come and visit their classrooms and now I’m not only a full-time teacher at a local high school or high school, I should point out, incidentally, that rejected me as a student back in ‘78. But I also I also get to work with different groups I work with adults who have been away from writing and are just coming back I work with I frequently work with pick an elementary school and lecture at the local colleges a few times a year. And then there are groups like ours, and some of the some of the classes, that I would say, are more specialized. I think a long ago with some around 2009 I met a man named Gary Glaser who had developed a series of poetry workshops for people with Alzheimer’s he created a really interesting series called the old timers poetry project and, on the strength of that and working with him. I started working with the facial book Club in Los Angeles, and then ultimately got to work with got to meet and work with you.

The Professor: I think that's a terrific answer and I, and I appreciate that you said. Your poetry is useful because I’m interested in diving into that what's useful about it, I kind of phrase, the question I’m not really sure how to address this but is it something about the power of poetry transcendence this ability for people to express things that they can't express other ways, you have ideas about that.

California Guy: yeah and the only thing I’m struggling with right now is making sure that my answer doesn't dominate the rest of our time together because it's so loaded. When I first started writing poetry in earnest our tree was experiencing as it does, I kind of, there was a wave of interest in popularity that was that was cresting in the middle nine days. And we were seeing a lot of poetry, at least, out of here, I was aware that poetry was starting to appear on the radio, you were hearing it on you know, on NPR and prairie home companion, and things like that and Things more people were getting gift anthologies of poetry and poetry was starting to enjoy an interesting higher profile slam poetry was also coming into its own and right at that time, the word accessibility started to become a bad word. At least among poets, a lot of poets felt that there were there was too much work out there, that was playing to the audience that wanted to be like. As often happens when anything becomes popular you know, a certain group or sunset identifies everything that makes it popular and immediately begin to disdain it. And likewise in poetry circles, you heard you know lots of folks going well you know. There were a lot of what they called make poetry, it seemed that just poetry was you know, was coming up through the floor and that there was you know, there was tons of it and it wasn't very good work was happy or it seems to have lots of buzzwords and then, once I take accessibility became sort of a bad word efforts paying attention to that I was mostly because I I’m sort of amused by it seemed like a fake issue. It seemed like a fake problem I look at people are reading phones and being moved by. You know why, would you even bother to criticize that you know why, would you bother to say Oh well, there's so much sameness. I think that sometimes people are afraid that work of quality will be drowned out or somehow muffled by an abundance of lesser work but I, I firmly believe that you know, a it's in the eye of the beholder and be only the future nose art. And with all of this sort of swirling around in my head, I have saw instead of accessibility, I saw usefulness, you know, I think that I think that people's attention is a very valuable commodity, and I think it only gets more valuable it only gets more precious because so much competing for attention so much that is worthy is competing for attention the easy observation is that with social media and the phenomenon is celebrity that there's a lot of stuff that is worthless that it's competing for attention, I also think there's a great deal of very important stuff that competes for our attention. And for me to ask for your attention. As a poet I’m asking something serious from you, you know why should you pay attention to me I better have something interesting and useful to say you know. You know if all I’m going to do is shake my fist at you, or just try to make you feel good, then you know. There may be merits to that, but I feel like I would like there to be something useful something that you can take away, something that will clarify something or allow us to identify with each other and so that is the kind of usefulness, I mean then there's the other, there is another kind of usefulness now, which is I believe that as a poet, you know if you are not going to take some responsibility for the excitement then you're going to be complicit in the boredom, and that means I need to look at the work of my contemporaries I need to look at the work of people around me and make noise about it when one thing that I think and share it and put it out there and I also need to help raise the voices of the people around which is one of the big reasons that I teach. And, and that too is another kind of usefulness take the skills of poetry of the things that we use to identify a poem as upon rhythm meter similarly metaphor image personification hyperbole citation all of these things are useful and practical. You know, I believe that metaphor is in fact a gateway to compassion. You know if on a you know spending my days wondering how the light shields, as it falls into the room and how the Chair feels you know I when I luxuriate into it, if I’m wondering about how everything around me feels then it's going to be a lot easier for me to remember to remember how you feel or you know or ask how you feel. And, and I think these are just you know, some of the uses that I’m referring to.

The Professor: that's terrific and just to reiterate a couple of those points I think I’m right in saying that it's useful for the people who consume it and useful for the people that produce it right yeah and then that idea of raising up those voices I think it's really powerful as we think about you know, using poetry, with people with stroke and brain injury and dementia, as you said, yeah.

California Guy: And a way to segue into that and again I’m hoping your editors will help us cut to the chase well I say I’m a lot I think poetry emerges from culture to culture, for you know, a very simple reason, and that is that. Most of life, he is in fact indescribable that life is you know is characterized by things that just seem impossible to relate things that either are very minute and subtle or things that are huge and breathtaking. And that vein what it's like to be alive and any moments to convey mortal self consciousness to another person it's an almost impossible task, and so we try to come up with other ways to stay the unsayable music is a big one dance is another painting drawing sculpture. You know plays theater movies, these are all an effort to sort of brands like what it's like to be alive and conscious and reacting to things in a mode and perhaps the most perverse of all. Are those of us trying to attempt, the unsayable with language. Because right away the deck seems to be stacked against us, if I just tell you that I’m having a good day or a bad day you will never feel it with me. If I get into a little more detail if I say it was a rough day at work or I felt that nobody was listening to what I was saying, or there was a great deal of traffic again you'll have information, but you won't feel it with me. But if I can give you something that it was like, if I can give you a simile or a metaphor, that I can give you the subtle textures colors sounds and shapes I can give you an image to see in your mind then maybe you and I can start to have higher communication, you will start to know more closely how I felt and as a poet, I know that once I except as my goal as just trying to translate a feeling to you, then I can use just about anything to get there and it has been most wonderful reeducation. The tools of poetry are the characteristics or three are working with people that have traumatic brain injuries and us and language processing disorders, people with like aphasia. Because. In poetry, because feeling is first there's a lot more room for how to use the language and when I encounter a new writer who's dealing with aphasia and they begin to understand that they really can you know work with whatever words are coming to mind, even if they feel like the wrong word, you know that poetry, you know that all poetry suffers from a great deal of inaccuracy and then every poet or the history of poet poetry. You know feels like they got it wrong and they didn't quite choose the right word that there was probably a better word out there, that also most of the word rules of language don't necessarily have to apply, I can write a poem using perfect grammar but I don't have to I can, if I need to abandon subject verb agreement and just put my emphasis on cultivating images and communicate by just relaying to another person, you know, in very what we call in poetry compressed language. You know the bare bones of my sensory memory, you know I touches taste sound smell, you know textures these. That this may be, all I need to create an emotional experience and the reader or the listener. You know, and that it will be its own thing that it will be viable it'll be upon. You know, it will have magnitude. And you know, working with people that have aphasia working with people that have traumatic brain injury folks, that is to say folks that you know. Or you know just putting together a simple sentence might be a challenge it's been amazing to watch what happens. When you just change the focus a little bit instead of saying tell me how you, you know about your day or write me a story about your day if they know going in that they're working with poetry. And then every single word that they choose, will mean potentially more of an itself, you know. But every word that they that they managed to come up with will have a greater currency, you know or for any audience, because, of course, when we experience poetry if we read poetry listen to poetry, we paint we attend it differently than we attend the other things don't like I mean if you know you're reading a problem you're going to read it differently to yourself. Then you would then you would read a story it's a different act of attention and we know that you know that going into it, that there is a kind of preciousness to every word that we might not attribute with just a prose narrative story, and I have found that this has only been empowering people with aphasia and traumatic brain injury.

The Professor: I just gotta say I one of the things I love most about working with you on this is your ability to acknowledge competence, you may know not know the but the nerdy speech language pathologists that listen to this will know the term acknowledging competence, this idea that we convey through our words through our actions through our non verbals that someone has the capability and that expectation for competent performance. And I think what you just talked about is really important, if someone's thinking. Oh, I want to run a poetry group, but I don't have Brendan Constantine I think the key is really this idea that you said poetry, you know it is really a heavy lift in that you're trying to explain the unexplainable and you're trying to do it with words and yet we're asking people who have trouble with words doing this, I think your flip of saying, but the angle at this, is that you can use any words and you can use the words that are at your disposal, and you don't have to use them correctly and you can still be really successful and as we've learned really moving in and how you use those words. I just think that's the most remarkable thing about the poetry groups that I’ve been a part of.

California Guy: Thank you, the therapies that I have encountered for people that are dealing with language processing disorders, they tend to be very corrective predictive therapies, you know the example that comes to mind is. Where, for instance, someone will be presented with a worksheet that has a drawing of a bed. And then there'll be an incomplete sentence at the bottom and it'll say when I’m tired I get in my blank and the person with aphasia or TBI is being guided to you know. To finish the sentence in a very predictable way because the emphasis is you know, we need to help them get you know back in the habit of simple communication and being to identify their needs, and this is, this is a very necessary kind of therapy, but. When it comes to poetry what's interesting you know poetry and creative writing in general is we're not interested in the next expected word. You know of you know we're interested in the word that will be emotionally true, and that may be a very unpredictable thing I’ve found you know witnessing a lot of paraphrases you know word displacement word substitution. You know, you know the substitution of you know, words that are genetically similar to the word that the person wants to use that quite often even when you know, a person with aphasia feels toward it in the act of trying to say something very simple and chooses the wrong word. That goes quote unquote wrong words. Nearly often actually are emotionally compatible with what they are trying to say, you know that you know if they're the wrong words they're only wrong by so much there inexact and that's different. And, and you know many, as I say, it's exactitude that a lot of therapies are trying to produce, but in poetry we're not really interested in exactitude largely because we know it's impossible. I mean great, I mean you know, working with metaphor trying to write this way to communicate through poetry is a lot like you know I liken it to the way diamonds are graded you know if you go to a jeweler and buy a diamond. The scale he's working with has at one end a concept of a perfect diamond but a perfect diamond is, in fact, impossible to possess because on their scale a perfect diamond would be composed entirely of light. And then seems to be, you know that seems to be a perfect own would be as it Lucy when you know you know we're trying for something that you know we know we're never going to get all the way there we're going to get close you know and so. You know. Your employer poetry, you know it's you know. As I said, it is different to the rules, and I find that it does tend to accommodate you know people that have these constrained communicative challenges and to mention that you know quite often, you know. Another thing that that I think you know it's just such a simple fix you know if somebody is interested in creating a poetry workshop. A lot of your you know for people that that have aphasia or people that have traumatic brain injury the standard model of any creative writing workshop is that everybody gets together and ranks. You know, and we do some of that in in the group that you and I shared but if you're willing to just change focus a little bit and give your students time to work on stuff on their own. And instead of putting an emphasis on producing writing right there in the workshop that the workshop is the place where the writing happened. But instead put an emphasis in your workshop on you know communicating about what you like about poetry what you notice about you know a poem that you like and how it works and extracting from that things that you would like to try, with the group and say okay. You know, we looked at this kind of home and this kind of home seems to work by doing this either, it has repetition in it for its shaped a particular way or use a certain kinds of words okay now we're all going to try that and we'll meet again in a week and you give everybody plenty of time to work. Just that you know just that little difference can produce huge results, the pressures off nobody staring over their shoulder nobody's you know they get enough of that you know, but if they have time to say I’m just writing this for me I’m just feeling he's to work on. You know, then get ready for some really interesting results you know and that seems to have been the case with our class is you know they have a week in between sessions, and you know plenty of time to be comfortable with you know with whatever words.

The Professor: Yeah agreed and I’ve been really so we've been doing this, since November and I’ve been really surprised, but I shouldn't be surprised at how much kind of I’ll call it poetry theory poetry approaches that people have just kind of adapted and really understand in terms of the way that they talk about poetry now versus how they talked about poetry before you know, tonight we had one of our Members share a poem about writing poems and it had all of those pieces in it right. You know about using imagery and about using metaphor, and about and was able to kind of talk about those things in a sophisticated way and how much of that that people can really learn and apply is really remarkable.

California Guy: From what I’ve seen there's and it's interesting because we do have some some folks in the class that are dealing with you know different degrees of challenge and I have found in particular, you know, am I allowed to say the names of anyone in the class.

The Professor: I that's a good question um I think it's probably okay to say a first name that's fine okay.

California Guy: Well, today we have you know we have we had a student named reached out to I think of the folks that we work with has perhaps one of the most extreme. Challenges and what has happened, has been really remarkable because you know, because the pressure has been taken off of her to find the exact words that in fact. She seems to have embodied the principle that, if I can describe for you all the things around the thing that I want to talk to you about. You know I mean Sometimes I feel as though there are very specific words that she cannot some. And so, she gives us all the nouns that exists around that particular now literally like you know case in point, if I couldn't you know, think of the word bed, you know and instead describing everything else in that room or naming all of the things that are on the path. And of course, her poetry that's only going to make the he's more vivid, so you know. If she tells us about going on a trip. She mentioned, you know. The sunlight, you know, on grass and ducks in a pond and the thousands of people getting in and out of their cars. And the wind and her ears and all of these things come up and she does it in one or two words and it's not in complete sentences, but you never miss a beat and these incredible rhythm. You know and it's really pretty stunning, you know, and she knows that she can she can move from image to image to image to image and take us through the course of a day at a lake you know and it's you know it's really quite exciting, this is, you know this is more than once I’ve you know. I’ve got my thoughts myself, you know I, you know as her family aware of this or that story that she's you know anything at this, you know. In a home, you know she'll make reference to you know, surely you know, surely to talk about a perfect day or so throwing a memory from childhood and I think. You know this whole sounds like stuff that's coming out here for the first time, you know I mean you know and endeavored to just talk about those things directly would never have done so with this depth of feeling.

The Professor: Yeah agreed, you know when you were talking about this, we had a conversation about this tonight in group, one of the most popular or common phrases that our group Members say may become a title for one of our publications about the poems. Which is, I don't think I did this right.

California Guy: That's right. We here at every assignment, you know when we meet up again yeah I don't think I did this right and of course that's become my new favorite thing to hear. Because you know it means they're about to blow me away, it means they're about to do something totally unexpected with the prompt. that's another thing for anybody that might listen to this and is interested in putting together a workout. And you want to give your you know your students. Challenges you know I find don't try to you know, don't give them exercises where you know what the poem is going to look like when it's done don't have to fix an idea of what the finished product should look like, in fact, ideally, probably have no idea what the finished product is supposed to look like. You know the this you know, because the class is going to take it in their own direction anyway, you know and so long as they have the freedom to take it in their own direction. You know, it tends to get really exciting, because they will invariably show you things that you just did not see coming you know and I have seen that happen, you know from time to time, where you know, a workshop instructor will give an assignment with very specific instructions and the writer gets a better idea, and you know along the way the prompt inspires them, and you know, which is what you're hoping for, but then they sort of deviate from the rules of the project and take it in some new direction. You know and I’ve seen it happen, where, then the workshop leaders say, well, you did it wrong. And they didn't they did it right it's a creative writing class. They should be writing creatively, it would be, it would be an amazing if the one thing that got in their way was the assignment, you know. Hopefully we're just you know I mean any good prompt really should just be a means to get you started. yeah, just you know, because you know once the poet has some momentum, you know, let him go yeah.

The Professor: Again, that comes back to that principle of acknowledging competence and having that expectation that people are going to produce something that will blow you away I’m kind of jealous for your high school students, because my high school poetry was never that good. So maybe we can talk a little bit about some of the other poetry workshops and classes that you've run so you talked a little bit about the poetry work that you did with individuals with dementia. And I know that you've done some work with Mike Biel maybe that's a good place to start and a lot of our listeners will know Mike. 

California Guy: It was really interesting experience back in 2017 I got a letter from Michael Biel I believe he wrote to me through my website and I. He may remember this differently, but I recall that he had heard my name associated with the Alzheimer’s poetry project, and he reached out and said look I run a book club for people with aphasia here in Los Angeles. And we've noticed a curious thing we look at all kinds of books, sometimes we read you know novels and sometimes we read you know, you know, a memoir and sometimes we do books of poetry, and whenever we do poetry group discussions become much more animated and engaged. And he said I wonder if it would be possible to lead a poetry writing workshop for people with aphasia I said, well, I you know I don't know how to. You know, work with people with aphasia so I’m just going to teach a workshop for writers and see what happens and if that's good with you will, will you know we'll see if this works, and so I came in and I started with you know lots of very basic prompts. Because I had some experience working with children. I was used to you know it's actually or what I should say I should back up and start with point over I’m fortunate enough that a lot of how I learned to teach started with kids because it affected how I work with adult. When I’m teaching writing workshops with adults, I will quite often bring in props and toys. I’ll bring in games and things to sort of simulate creative fun, and so it occurred to me that if I was going to be in a room full of people who were having trouble thinking of words. That it might be smart to bring object, it might be straight, you know, in addition to bringing writing materials and examples of poems that I should bring you know seashells and bones and and uh you know pocket watches campuses you know can be just about us, you know anything I’m going I was bringing in rubber toys, in addition to simple poetry games and toys like magnetic poetry or Taylor molly's wonderful invention metaphor dice. And there's a bunch of these devices out there and I also spent an afternoon just writing random words on index cards. And I just brought in all of this stuff and I started out by talking to the group about what I liked about poetry asked them what they liked about poetry we looked at some different kinds of poetry that was very expansive but also lots of poetry, where the poets communicated in just a few words we looked at haiku poetry we looked at homes by Thomas transformer and we looked at a beautiful poem called silence by Laurence Dunbar Paul Laurence Dunbar I should say which the group really seem to enjoy it was all poem about when you don't need to speak and we looked at a bunch of different kinds and poems that seem to have no order to them and poems were the language was all over the page and we just started there and very slowly got a sense of who, who was comfortable taking a pen in their hands that day, who is comfortable just moving around pieces of paper with words on them desk who wanted to intersperse. You know words and dice and some of the objects together on the table in front of them and make a sentence that would have visual half you know language managing all of you know. And we did you know from session to session started that simply and we started to notice that you know from session to session, the group was becoming a little more fat file a little more comfortable with these materials and the work became more complex. Until You know yeah and I mean I think it's important to emphasize that I’m not talking about touring anything. You know and I’m not talking about poetry as a means to overcoming. A failure or repairing the brain, but what was interesting to me. More than interesting what was actually astonishing with that. There were a couple of students in that class who had given up on holding a pen. Because they had their, the aphasia they had was the result of multiple and severe strokes, which you know resulted in paralysis and you know they've given up on being able to you know steadily hold him suddenly being renewed in their desire to do so and actually managing to get. Like a pen. Steady in their good hands, knowing that if they could just get a few words, so they didn't have to construct a sentence, you know, a one student in particular began isolating nouns it took her while you know she would take the session to do it, she would start isolating the nouns that she wanted us and spacing them out with a live seeds using you know dots and dashes is connective tissue and you know, there was this sort of renewed vigor and You know she gone from you know she started out the first few sentences. Pointing you know to an assistant, you know pointing with an assistant at various things and saying you know put that next to that next to them and now she was taking the pen in our hand and starting to write poems out by hand. And then you know, once you know, and then, once she had the freedom to take you know, as I said, take the things home and work on it for a week. And you know she was there, you know whether index finger and making words on a keypad and doing the same thing, using an ellipse ease or dots and dashes or forward flashes to sort of you know uh, You know, do the work of articles and incidental words and just you know and then information was and then.

California Guy: Oh yeah uh you know she was using dots and dashes and and various forms of you know, sometimes just period do the work of conjunctions and you know articles and connective tissue in her language and created this really vivid work. Michael and I decided that we would do a six-week session, and then we followed that with another eight-week session because the group really seem to enjoy themselves and wanted to do more of this and after the second eight week session, he was like Okay, you know. This is this is tested Now this is working over and over again and that's when I got to meet you because we went out to Asia camp in Wisconsin and tried to do some workshops there with a whole new group of folks and you know what started to happen in a really interesting way yeah.

The Professor: So maybe we can talk a little bit about what's been happening in our group and kind of where it began, and where it's going those sorts of things kind of how we approach things on the on the front end and welcome kinds of supports are provided that sort of stuff.

California Guy: Yeah, this has been a really interesting experience and again it's continued to broaden my understanding of you know what it means to be doing this kind of work. Oh, I’m at risk of a digression, but I think perhaps this is the context that will be helpful. hmm. At the same time I want to get a good handle on how I want to say this.

The Professor: Yeah, that's cool.

California Guy: As I said, poetry, when you study its origins from culture to culture, it really does seem to emerge in a pattern. And that pattern seems to be you know, of course, mostly of all languages, for the most part, begin spoken whether or not a culture will develop a written language it's not always the case, there are you know, there are exceptions around the world in cultures, where you know. A written tradition might not appear, or it might not appear, for a long time. But when the language is up and running, it does seem that, after a period of time people become aware that it falls short of expressing some very necessary things. That they're things that just cannot simply be named and that they need a special way to talk about special thing they need an intimate way to talk about intimate thing. And so you'll see people will start to use, there will be certain subjects for which they use only the most beautiful words in that language are only sacred words or they will as Pessoa says speak against the true nature of speech they'll give them music and unnatural rhythm or musicality they'll they'll give it a meter or they'll put it to music they'll they may even deliberately misuse their language for the purpose of fire communion because what it is that they seem to lack is an emotional vocabulary. And I think that's what that poetry provides is an emotional vocabulary and what I’ve seen with our particular group is this vocabulary gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And a famous poet said that poetry was a curious sort of language that is changed slightly by everyone who uses that well and. And our group has been sort of a microcosm for this, you know they started out very simply, and it seems to me that the first the first few efforts in poetry that we got on our on our very first session were largely sort of aphoristic that there were, you know that they there wasn't a lot of image, there was mostly there was mostly just sort of poems you know about being the best that you could be or being the happiest that you could be. They were poems that largely tend to be just sort of both writing encouragement and the more that they began to wait in from session to session to you know putting an emphasis on nouns over adjectives putting an emphasis on you know, on sensory details. On giving the language that kind of flow our rhythm and these kinds of things, and the more examples that they saw these the more different kinds of writing from which to draw upon you know presented to them with this is not a poem for you to imitate you're just looking at what the writer does and see if here's that word again if anything they're doing is useful to you and that you know by the third session we were seeing very vivid changes in how they were expressing themselves and it seemed to happen that fast, you know you know they've got a week between each session, you know so by the third session. You know there's you know, two weeks later. Suddenly, there are these very vivid transformation taking place, and not just in you know and with our with our Members that were, as you know, as we mentioned before, at very. You know, with very different kinds of trump you know and dealing with a very different sort of set of I don't I don't know whether to call and characteristics or pair of beiges or symptoms but you know one person in the group who for the most part is okay with sentence construction, but does tend to Max out over a period of time, and another person who you know who you know who needs two or three tries to get at you know at the sentence, they want and then you know, and then you know and get another person with a slightly more extreme case you know where they really can't very easily construct complete sentences at all on the first they really need some time you know to say let the words calm at their own pace, you know, and if they can't get the word say one you know get it, the words around the words they want. With interesting too and it's true at all levels of writing and by all levels, I don't mean all levels of people, you know that are in therapy with that, but I mean this is true of all writers in fact it's true of all our time has always been largely a question of what the artists does in dead of what they don't do well and that's where your true voice is going to become is going to come from and where it's going to be at its most particular and peculiar. You know. Billie Holiday didn't have a singer's voice neither did Janis Joplin it's what they did with what they fat instead of what they didn't do well, that made it interesting you know. You know, and I, and I guarantee you that if we were to talk to the people in our class about their own writing. I’m guessing that most of them were you know, or at least at the beginning, have felt that the very things that made their week writing week is just the things that to you and I make it the most interesting. You know, you know, and you know and for any writer in any class, you know who is looking at the radius around them and going well, I can't do what they do. No, you can't. Going right yeah.

The Professor: Yeah.

California Guy: Or rather don't make that her goal I don't I guess I wouldn't say don't try but don't make that your goal, because I guarantee you. You know weakness right like you. You know you're gonna have to you can't do what somebody else does you're gonna have to do what you do because trust me, none of us can.

The Professor: Yeah, absolutely I love that metaphor of Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday that idea of don't try to do what you can't do what you can it's just such a powerful mindset.

California Guy: When you're looking at supporting broke all over the place, I mean constantly falling off notes and leaving ABS of words, other than whatever what she gave us was so much more powerful you know I mean if she you know I started, and it is true, you know it's not always easy to get yourself in that mindset I get it, I mean I actually heard somebody say something to the effect that, like Thelonious monk was great if you didn't mind all the mistakes. Take you know where you take know your he did. Give me in the emotion, the raw emotion that's coming out on that keyboard. The thing that made my month. You know and made us want to keep going back you know you know those notes, some of them strong and some that are so frail You know, as you know, the way Hendrix would you know would blast through certain chords and combinations of notes and you know and just starting to fall off or get ahead of the bass, the bass, or you know it was just you know amazing you know that's where the artist that's where it gets spectacular.

The Professor: And I do.

California Guy: Yeah, and we've seen that again and again.

The Professor: Yeah absolutely so I mean, so this podcast is about an approach, called the LIFE participation approach for aphasia and I think what we just talked about just really encapsulates that idea of doing what you can do not you know kind of dwelling on what you can't do is just such a great mantra for that that approach, you know one other thing that you do that, I think. Always kind of instills this sense of confidence in this sense of I can take on anything in the world, and I think for anyone who's thinking about a poetry class, this is just so powerful, and I bet you use this expression with your high school kids with anyone. I’m not going to say this right, but you know, sometimes there are words that are in you for 30 years that just needed to come out and this is the moment that they come out on a piece of paper. That idea that you've got things inside of you that want to be shared and that you know, this is just kind of a vehicle for sharing them I just think that. Expresses so much confidence and that they're that they're capable of doing anything, and I think that's powerful.

California Guy: And I really you know for anybody that might be cynically going I was like well yeah but maybe you just had an awesome group. I you know I highly recommend that you just you just give it a shot. You know, and that you just you know you take your you take your expectations off of the end result and just you know going to find some poems that you think are interesting you know and be willing to share them with a group of people and be prepared to not have all the answers, in other words, you know, bringing a poem that you don't completely understand that you can't necessarily explain. You know and sit there with the group and wonder at it together. And because the truth of the matter is if a poet could have explained everything in their home down to the teacups they probably wouldn't have needed to write home. You know, and so you know if you're if you're willing to go into this with them and feel a little out of your depth, you know um. You know and just lead in and look at a handful of poems and just say okay we're gonna. You know what would we like about these poems what are these poems seem to do, how are they shaped you know. Is there anything with the poet does over and over is there, you know, is there something they only do once at the end that's really interesting you know well let's see if we can look up can do that, you know let's see if we can. You know, take that example and sort of run with it, and our own direction and I’ll See you in a week you just pile up a few weeks to doing that and guarantee you you're going to see. You know, some changes, and if you if you can't find any problems to use you're not sure where to start writing poems to use in your workouts. Because there's just tons of gorgeous work.

The Professor: yeah, that's terrific so Brendan I was gonna ask you about outcomes, but I have a different idea. If I share screen, will you read because you're a much better reader than I am some of the right out of the horse's mouth, some of the expressions about the poetry group that group members have shared, so this is what they said about. What poetry group means to them, I think you'll be able to see this there. I’ll let you read a little bit and.

California Guy: These quotes are examples of the therapeutic power of poetry. It's healing me it's all really helping me now. I’m healing leaps and bounds and other one says it makes me feel like my thoughts are coherent, whereas the rest of the time I don't feel like my thoughts are coherent it helps me bring my thoughts together. Another person says, I didn't know, I was a poet, I also didn't know, I was an international speaker it's pushing me outside of my comfort zone. I guess, I never realized that some of that stuff was in me and maybe I was trying to get it out, but I just didn't quite know how and it's just another avenue for. Another person ads it's helped me to focus my energy more it's helped me to focus my thoughts more because my putting words together oh sorry. I’m going to take that sorry going to take that quote again, it helped me to focus my energy more it's helped me to focus my thoughts more because my thoughts are scattered on a daily basis. Like I have trouble with concentration, I have troubled was putting words together and that kind of stuff So when I sit down and actually, I’m working on a phone it's like words come together miraculously. And I’m like wait a minute, if I could talk like this, all the time I’d be able to really communicate unfortunately life isn't about poetry. But it really has helped me it's given me the boost I need in life to realize that I am capable of something more than what my brain injury is making me capable of, yeah wonderful. 

California Guy: Had you shared those important because I don't remember team that?

The Professor: I wanted to throw them on you right now, so you get kind of red face.

California Guy: Fear to make me cry in the middle of a podcast Thank you. Well yeah well that's miraculous and that's what you hope for, I should also say just and maybe I’m only saying it for myself. I do believe that the most successful that any writer can ever hope to be has nothing to do with publishing a book or having your name on a library or getting a Pulitzer it's not the green room, the most successful that I think you can reasonably hope to be is to meet somebody in your lifetime, who you know says. You know you wrote this thing and it stayed with me. You know. And that's it that's the green room that's you know and what's been interesting is that some of the folks in our groups I’ve started sharing their work outside of our class and are getting a really interesting response. One person and I guess, I can say first name is Katie was just telling me that. A piece that she wrote, is now being read at a funeral because somebody else you know she shared it with somebody else you know and You know, they were like this, this has to be this this get to what I can say. And you know I mean it's you know that's funny that's you know I mean how successful did you want to be. A waiter that's you know that beats the pants off of anything else you know and for somebody who you know already feels that a huge disadvantage to somebody who's already been dealing with. You know, living in recovery after traumatic brain injury to you know, to find that not only did they did they clarify something that they wanted to say, but that it was useful there's that word again for somebody else I mean that's. You know what are we after, not that oh.

The Professor: Absolutely, and I think both of you and I have felt this sense after multiple groups multiple classes, where we just say I just continued to be blown away by what people produce. And how they continue to just knock through that ceiling that glass ceiling that just accomplish things that I just didn't know was in them and they certainly didn't know was in them. For some of them I think what if they had never been a part of that class, and you know to not have known what potential lies underneath you know all of the struggles that they've been through. I think that's the power of something like this is to just see them break through and gain confidence and continue to do things that they didn't think they were capable of doing. yeah yeah. So, I was gonna say it's been a great conversation and just a privilege to be a part of this this work with you anything else you want to say to our listeners and closing?

California Guy: Just this. It has been my experience that writer's block is almost never a shortage of magic, it is almost always a surplus of judging. And if you can just take your expectations off of it, you know don't add it before anything lands on the page just let it happen. You will be amazed before you are halfway through.

The Professor: Absolutely, and I think you've created a space where people can feel like they have no judgment, where they feel like they can share and be successful and fail and screw up and begin each poem with I think I did this wrong. Right.

California Guy: Right and again it's always I mean it's like I said, it's my favorite here like as soon as I heard, like all this is going to be excellent.

The Professor: Absolutely, if all therapy for speech language pathologist with people with aphasia and brain injury was like that. Right, I think I did this wrong I'm going to love it. Boy, we got great outcomes.

California Guy: Yeah absolutely. Well, thank you so much for inviting me to participate yeah.

The Professor: Thank you so much Brendan and see you next Thursday.

California Guy: Next Thursday man.

The Professor: Alright, thanks. Bye-Bye.