Gaining a voice … through verse
Dub poet Klyde Broox uses a unique form of poetry to help people with schizophrenia
They say in times of trouble a pen and paper can be helpful.
Map the dismay into words. Write the feelings into sentences. Give it some form and it will be easier to manage.
A lot of poetry arises this way. It’s intended to be read, but it can also be therapeutic for the writer.
In this context, it’s interesting to consider dub poetry, a style of expression from Jamaica that is heavy on free association, word play and performance. Its proponents — like other poets but even more so — try to tap into the subconscious to express and understand.
Klyde Broox, 59, a dub poet since he was a boy in Jamaica, has taken the art form in a fascinating direction by hosting regular sessions for in-patients and outpatients with schizophrenia at St. Joseph’s West 5th mental health facility.
His “Dubwise or Otherwise” program is a groundbreaking effort to use the magic of poetry as a therapeutic tool. After three months of sessions every two weeks, the program is showing good results, hospital administrators say.
“It’s about finding their voice to be able to express themselves,” says Dawnna Kazarian Keith, manager of rehabilitation for schizophrenia and community integration. “Quite often, people who have mental health issues feel stigmatized and feel they have lost their voice, and the program has given people the opportunity to express themselves through the power of words.”
The idea was the brainchild of St. Joe’s occupational therapist Anita Kanwar. She came to know of Broox through his performances in the community and thought dub poetry could be a great therapeutic tool especially to deal with stigma.
“For most individuals with mental illness, they will describe the experience of stigma as being more difficult than the illness itself,” she said.
It was something that made perfect sense to Broox, who sees parallels between mental health stigma and the stigma he has felt because of racism.
Dub poetry has helped him and he believes it can help people with mental illness as well. “I know that poetry can work because it gets inside the person,” he says.
Last month, a class put its collective creativity together to write a poem called “Ray Among Shadows,” which won an award at the Mindfulness Living Show at the Spice Factory in downtown Hamilton.
It was created by having participants collectively put a hand on a door and then brainstorm phrases that were evoked from the experience they were feeling. The words were sewn together to make the poem.
In the end, it gave insight to their feelings about being stigmatized and addressed the theme of the show, mindfulness, the idea that one should live in the moment rather than focusing on the past or contemplating the future.
Broox has lived in the Hamilton area for more than 25 years and has become known for his animated dub poetry performances, which are often political in content.
One of the poems he performed at a recent session was called “Colour Stigma,” and it lamented the racism Broox has experienced in his life.
“No need to stand on guard against me, I will never commit a robbery. I’m not a threat to public safety. Don’t treat me like a de facto enemy of society ... I am doing nothing but living and breathing and resisting the stigmatizing of the skin I was born in,” he says.
Patient Jack Blackmon, who is black himself, said he could “really relate to the poem. The stigma about colour really touched me.”
He thinks it is a fantastic release to use dub poetry to express himself.
“The idea is to let it out. Let it go. And say what’s on your mind. That’s what poetry is about — speaking from the heart.”
Patient Tim Button said: “It gives us a chance to speak our minds about the stigma of mental illness. It gives us an opportunity to get out in the public.”
This week is Mental Health Week, which tries to encourage people to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others about mental health issues. Visit www.mentalhealthweek.ca for more information.
The idea is to let it out. Let it go. And say what’s on your mind. That’s what poetry is about — speaking from the heart. PATIENT JACK BLACKMON
Above: Klyde Broox uses the magic of poetry as a therapeutic tool. Here, Broox hosts a session at the West 5th mental health facility.
Left: Klyde Broox leads dub poetry sessions for in-patients and outpatients in the schizophrenia program.