Twenty-five years ago I was paralyzed in a car accident. I was living in Savannah Georgia at the time and had just graduated college. Some very fine doctors put my spine back together but it was up to me to handle the reconstruction of my soul. Like most accidents this one was complicated. I had been in another car accident seven years before which had put me in a coma. I had been driving that time. But this time my long distance boyfriend had been the driver. Two men were killed. And I hadn’t planned to stay in Savannah, I was just passing through. It was one hot mess. But I had poetry. And poetry saved my life.

Of course I am not the first to suggest that there is healing in the creative arts. Nor the first to experience its power. I came across many artists over the years that followed who had done the same. There was Odd Morten, the Norwegian painter who had been sent out as a young soldier to clean up after an avalanche and still painted legs detached from their bodies. There was Frank Lee who wrote heartbreaking melodies which at first glance were about a spate of troubled women but looking deeper one could see they were all about the father he never knew. And then there were the poets.

There has always been a debate about this idea that one must suffer for art. This is an idea I do not believe in at all. Yes, art can heal. Yes, many who suffer turn to art. But it is not necessary to suffer any more than the average human to creat great art. The average existential angst is quite enough. What makes art so transformative is that it comes from a place of connection. As Robert Olen Butler says, “Art does not come from where we think, but from where we dream.” From the subconscious. Which is also where we are all one. So it is by definition unifying. Connected. Whole.

What one does have to do to create art of any sort, is to engage. Allow it to happen. Let go. This can be a challenge when we are alone in a room with a canvas or a typewriter or a guitar. But when we come together as a group, with a leader, we can see we are as silly as the next person. Maybe someone will even remind us that the latin root of the word silly means holy. This is why I want to talk about using creative writing and theatre games in groups. For me, and for some whom I have worked with, it is nothing less than transcendant.

The poems I wrote about my car accidents have never been published. I rarely perform them anymore, although there was a time when I read them every chance I could get. But I keep writing them, have been writing them now for twenty-five years. They contain for me the essence of my psychic experience. They are signifiers of something lived which can be evoked through metaphor, the cut of a line, the choice of a word. These tools can bring order to chaos. They can make meaning where once there was only tragedy. These are things I have made which at once have also made me.

Perhaps one day those poems will be published. But they have already done their work.

Poetry saved my life. Or rather my soul. Painting saved Odd Morten. Music saved Frank Lee. What will save you? What will save your people?