Power of poems helps those battling MS


Local residents battling MS shared their personal battles and newfound solace through a reading of original poetry June 5. The poets gathered together in the library of Pilgrim High School on a night their teacher Brian Callahan described as “the culmination of extremely enjoyable and focused work.”

Callahan, an English Language Arts teacher at Pilgrim and a poet, facilitated the workshop in which groups of eight individuals, both patients and caregivers alike, used poetry as a “cathartic event.”

And all those who read on the 5th now share a connection to poetry unique to their experience with the illness. In the words of one of the poets, Anna Liebenow, “writing poetry and sharing it really opened up my life.” She concurred that the workshop helped her deal with her Multiple Sclerosis. For her, writing about it “makes you look at reality.” For Liebenow and the others, their realities were now captured in a form they could share with others.

Elinor Thompson, a caregiver for her husband John, read aloud her poem, “Caregiver’s Recipe For Survival.” She advised other caregivers to “keep fit, stay healthy” and “keep busy” because “time goes by fast.” She also reminds others to “find joy every day.”

Thompson prefaced her reading, saying the workshop “brought out the poet in me.” A fellow caregiver, David Craig said art and being creative “never meant anything to me before coming to this class.” Despite his prior disinterest, Craig crafted a poem attesting to his experience as his disease affected his friend, another poet in the class named Raymond Washington, over time. Craig sums up it when he writes, “Time has marched on and we’ve faced major changes; we have accepted and dealt with them through all their ranges.”

Callahan, also serving as master of ceremonies for the night, closed out the event by sharing his connection to the disease; his wife Lisa has the disease and also took up poetry as a means of making sense of MS. Callahan read his wife’s work, “Fade to Black,” first and then two poems of his own. “The Transformative Power of Necco Wafers” ends with MS being named as “invisible bandits that steal myelin but can never steal true love.”

After reading, Callahan reflected on the effort to support those with MS and the research necessary to battle it, “it is all grass roots fundraising” and it is usually “families doing stuff for families.” Both were true in this case. A collection of the poetry produced through the workshop was sold for $5 with all proceeds going to the R.I. Chapter of the MS Society.

But it also goes beyond money for Callahan, because for him “an evening like this brings what we try to do to a head” because “the process and products became a cathartic exercise, helping the members of the group to see Multiple Sclerosis as a part of their lives, not something that hinders or completely defines them.”

This summer, Callahan will be working with the Dream Center, an organization that gets folks with MS out during the day to participate in a variety of activities. Callahan will run a workshop for those folks similar to the one he ran with this group. There will be a mix of reading poems and writing original ones.

As for the next school year, Callahan hopes to run a workshop with the same folks. New members are welcome though and should keep an eye out for more information in the MS Society newsletter. If anyone has any questions for Callahan directly, e-mail him at callahanb@warwickschool.org.


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