Poetry & the Practice of Listening
An in-service workshop for hospice volunteers
and all those interested in exploring how poems
invite us to understand the mystery of our mortality
Hospice work is about “deep listening,” about meeting people where they are and helping them “learn by going where [they] have to go” (from “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke). It is not about giving answers but about framing questions. Good poems invite the hospice worker, the patient, and the patient's family to listen deeply to one another and to themselves. A truly consoling poem is all about the questions– the troubling heart, the fear of the unknown, the feelings for which we have no words. It approaches these feelings stealthily, sparingly, lovingly, as if they were wild creatures always just disappearing in the play of light and shadow in grief's wilderness.
In this 90-minute workshop, we will share an anthology of poems for deep listening and explore, through reading aloud and discussion, how such poems can help us and our patients be more fully present to our feelings and questions about grief, loss, and the work of dying. One of our aims will be to experience poetry as a physical form of expression. A poem's meaning is nothing more or less than the way it feels on the breath and in the chest when we speak it or hear it spoken. Thus, poetry can be as immediately and tangibly comforting as music or touch.