What got to AnneMarie was having too keep so still all the time. And the sound of the heart monitor beeping, which she is learning to tune out. This was the hardest work she had ever done, this effort to move as little as possible in her hospital bed, so that she could give her baby girl a chance to grow and get stronger, be ready to face the world outside the cramped and fibroid-filled environment of her womb.
When I would come to see her, which was several times a week at this late stage in her pregnancy, we discovered, among the talking, the prayers, the playing of music, and the laying of hands, that one of the things that helped little Amelie the most was when I read her poetry.
Her favorite one was “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou. I remember reading it to her during AnneMarie’s eighth month, when it was harder to still her oversized womb, and harder still to keep the monitor on a steady, ignorable rhythm. When I spoke the last lines of the poem, “I am the dream and the hope of the slave/I rise/I rise,” I saw a tiny bump appear on my friend’s belly, reaching for me. Amelie was born soon after that—small from being so crowded by the fibroids, but otherwise healthy. She will be eight this year, and loves to read poetry, but still prefers it being read to her.
It was a similar experience that led poet Quinn Smith to create the Bedside Meter project in partnership with O, Miami and Jackson Health System. “I visited a friend in the hospital and considered the things that I could do to make the experience better. I'm not a doctor, but poetry seemed like a perfect outlet. The idea grew from there.”
That idea turned into the month-long project, coordinated by Quinn, O, Miami and Jackson. On Tuesdays throughout the month of April, volunteer poets take time to visit patients recovering in long-term care at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The poets sit with the patients and ask them if there is a moment in their lives they would like memorialized in a poem. Poet and patient then collaborate to fashion the patient’s words into a poem, which is theirs to keep, and have published if they so desire. “Jackson has been a great partner,” says Quinn, an attorney by trade. “When we brought the idea to them, they suggested the patients in long-term rehab. They connected us with the right people, got the necessary approvals, and really helped push things along.”
But does it help the patients in their healing process? Quinn certainly thinks so. He is a believer in the restorative power of poetry. “I remember writing a poem for my great-grandmother's funeral. The writing process left me with joy, and the reading of the poem conveyed that joy to others. Afterward, a number of people asked for copies--the most I had ever ‘published [at the time].’ From that moment forward, I realized that poetry needed to be something more than nice sounding words.”
Clidiane Aubourg is a writer living in Miami, Fl. She will be contributing blog posts for O, Miami Poetry Festival 2016.