Cathexis/Catharsis: Writing To/Through Illness and Suffering — Sharon Mesmer

Tuesdays 7-9PM — 10 Sessions — Begins February 5

Illness and suffering are usually imaged as sites of trauma, feared as obstacles, rejected by a youth-obsessed culture.  But what if these forsaken places could be re-imaged and understood, with the help of poetry, as talismans, thresholds, gateways?  What if suffering were a language like any other that could be learned, manipulated and deployed in a powerful new way?  In this form-based workshop we will look at how poets encode and stabilize ideas about illness and suffering (their own and that of others) into traditional and novel poetic architectures, enabling readers to find new meanings in these witnessed experiences.  We’ll begin by looking at Jennifer Nix’s essay, “Finding Poetry In Illness,” then move on to poems by Anne Sexton, Aracelis Girmay, Joanne Kyger, Robert Lowell, Laynie Browne, Bob Kaufman, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Wordsworth, Jane Kenyon, Rainer Maria Rilke and Thomas Hardy.  Each week we’ll examine and discuss a poem that utilizes a form (the sonnet, the ode, the list poem, the “instruction” poem, the Fibonacci, etc.), and then flow and encode our own experiences into the stabilizing mechanism of that form.  Guest speakers will include Kristin Prevallet on the mind-body connection to poetry and healing, and Laynie Brown on the poem-as-amulet.

Sharon Mesmer is the author of the poetry collections Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books 2008), The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose 2008) and Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press 1998), as well as several fiction collections.  A Fulbright Specialist and two-time NYFA fellow in poetry, she teaches creative writing at NYU and the New School.