The heal­ing power of books and po­ems

Waterloo Region Record - - LOCAL - Luisa D’Amato

There’s some­thing very pow­er­ful about the writ­ten word.

You’re strug­gling with some­thing in your own life, and then you read a poem that was cre­ated cen­turies ago, or a few words of di­a­logue in a novel by some­one on the other side of the world.

And de­spite the bar­ri­ers of time, cul­ture and space, they’re de­scrib­ing ex­actly what you’re feel­ing. Some­one un­der­stands. You’re not alone.

Here’s a verse from the de­fi­ant, in­spi­ra­tional poem “Still I Rise,” by the African-Amer­i­can au­thor Maya An­gelou:

I’m a black ocean, leap­ing and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leav­ing be­hind nights of ter­ror and fear I rise Into a day­break that’s won­drously clear I rise Bring­ing the gifts that my an­ces­tors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.

These re­demp­tive words, from one of An­gelou’s best­known po­ems, will be part of an in­no­va­tive kind of ther­apy com­ing to Water­loo Re­gion: Bi­b­lio­ther­apy, oth­er­wise known as heal­ing through read­ing.

Mandy Brouse, who is coowner of Words Worth Books in Water­loo, is plan­ning to start with ses­sions called “Shelf Life: Cre­ative Bi­b­lio­ther­apy Work­shops.”

The two-hour ses­sions will be in­ti­mate, with about eight peo­ple in each, and the topic for the first group is: “From Fear to Joy: Cul­ti­vat­ing Re­silience in the Face of Fear.”

As a book­seller, she has run book clubs for years, but this is dif­fer­ent. Book clubs fo­cus on the books them­selves. In these ses­sions, the read­ings will be a jump­ing-off point for per­sonal dis­cov­ery.

Peo­ple have been do­ing this in­for­mally for years, of course. Lit­er­ary fic­tion is al­ready known to foster em­pa­thy, and book­worms are proven to live nearly two years longer than peo­ple who don’t read.

Even six min­utes a day of read­ing an en­gross­ing book can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce stress lev­els, ac­cord­ing to a study from Sus­sex Univer­sity in Eng­land.

Peo­ple know this in­stinc­tively, and turn to books for heal­ing. Brouse has of­ten been asked by cus­tomers for books on cer­tain top­ics in the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I know what peo­ple strug­gle with,” she said.

The ses­sion will also in­clude po­etry by Pablo Neruda; a mem­oir on grief called “H is for Hawk,” by Bri­tish au­thor He­len Mac­don­ald; and part of the book “Man’s Search for Mean­ing,” by the Holo­caust sur­vivor and psy­chi­a­trist, Vik­tor Frankl.

The ex­cerpts and po­ems will be read — not ahead of time as in a reg­u­lar book club — but will be read aloud when the group meets.

This pro­vides a “more au­then­tic, im­me­di­ate ex­pe­ri­ence,” Brouse said.

“We’re all read­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing to­gether at ex­actly the same time,” she said. “We’re lit­er­ally all on the same page.”

She hopes the dis­cus­sion that fol­lows will pro­vide a safe en­vi­ron­ment to delve into these chal­lenges of life with in­sight and grav­ity, free from that so­cial iso­la­tion that so many of us con­tend with.

Brouse has a de­gree in sex­u­al­ity, mar­riage and fam­ily stud­ies, with a con­cen­tra­tion in coun­selling. But she is not set­ting these ses­sions up as clin­i­cal ther­apy. Rather, the in­ten­tion is to spark cre­ativ­ity and pro­vide some guid­ance for each in­di­vid­ual jour­ney.

The ses­sions will be held at the Del­ton Glebe Coun­selling Cen­tre in Water­loo. The fee is nom­i­nal. If you are in­ter­ested in join­ing, con­tact Brouse at mandy@wordsworth­books.com

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