Gain­ing a voice … through verse

Dub poet Klyde Broox uses a unique form of po­etry to help peo­ple with schizophre­nia

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MARK MCNEIL mm­c­neil@thes­pec.com 905-526-4687 | @Markatthes­pec

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.

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