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February 17, 2011 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily -- michigandaily.com

Thursday, February 17, 2011- 3B

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Thursday, February 11, 2011 - 3B

A look at love
through poetry

Healing with humanities
How the University's Gifts of Art program
ties the rational with the emotional
By Jennifer Xu I Senior Arts Editor

You can tell Valentine's
Day is over because you
can watch TV again
without feeling guilty, depressed
or outraged. The woman
of thunder-
storms until
her beloved
presents her
with a Love's
necklace is
gone - at DAVID
least until LUCAS
So is the Ver-
mont Teddy Bear delivery man
who should not, under any cir-
cumstances, be given your street
We don't recognize the ver-
sion of love these commercials
offer, with their platitudes and
perfection. We worry that we
should, but love is more difficult
than a 30-second TV spot. Love,
as Leonard Cohen said, is not a
victory march. It does not con-
quer all, it is not all you need and
it does not go to Jared.
This is where poetry comes
in. Maybe I'm just as Pollyanna-
ish about poetry as the "Every
Kiss Begins with Kay" folks
are about love, but I do believe
poetry - when it's working at
its best - is an act of love for the
world, no matter how dismal its
vision. In this way, all poetry is
love poetry.
But we're talking about Val-
entine's Day love - two people
clinking wine glasses or walking
hand in hand or maybe even hav-
ing sex. Poetry tells us about that
kind of love too, but it should
free us from the illusion of love-
as-advertised. It should help us
understand the phenomenon as
we know it - the most chaotic,
unnerving, addictive experience
in our lives. Poetry should get it.
'-They Flee From Me," by the
Renaissance poet and diplomat
Thomas Wyatt, is the sort of
poem I mean. It's a poem about
the way love and loss get tangled
and, incidentally, it features the
best sex scene I know of in Eng-
lish poetry.
Wyatt imagines the woman
who no longer loves him as a
wild animal shying from his
open hand: "I have seen them
gentle, tame and meek / That
now are wild and do not remem-
ber / That sometime they putt
themself in danger /To take
bread at my hand." And, like
any heartbroken lover, Wyatt
tortures himself with memories
of they way they were, "once in
When her loose gown from her
shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms
long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, "Dear heart,
how like you this?"
That internal rhyme of"she
me" is almost unbearable, as
Wyatt wrenches the syntax to
bring together two pronouns,
even though the people they refer
to are now irrevocably apart. In
his vision, she is the wandering
animal, yet it's she who catches
him in her arms "long and small."
"It was no dream," he admits: "I
lay broad waking." It pains him to

remember, but less than it pains
him not to remember - as this
memory, however cruel, is now
all he has of her.
As much as poets are occu-
pied by the disappointments
of love lost, they also address

the disappointments of love
realized, which can be worse.
In one of my favorite passages
about erotic love, Adrienne Rich
writes: "How many men have
touched me with their eyes
/ more hotly than they later
touched me with their lips." The
contradictions of desire and
fulfillment and disappointment
that we spend our lives trying
to understand, Rich distills into
two devastating lines. Take a
look at Rich's "Twenty-One
Love Poems" for some of the
best contemporary love poetry
you'll find.
Or take the ending of Philip
Larkin's "Talking in Bed," an act
that "ought to be easiest." But
time passes and hearts change,
and even
At this unique distance from
It becomes still more difficult
to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.
The gap between true and not
untrue, kind and not unkind,
is barely wide enough for light
to escape. But that's the space
where poetry does its best work.
In Rich's and Larkin's poems,
time ravages fulfilled relation-
ships as those relationships
break down. The heartbreaking
end of Rita Dove's "Old Folk's
Home, Jerusalem" portrays
time's cruelties to even the
strongest relationships. After a
catalogue of old age's depriva-
tions ("what doesn't end sloshes
over"), Dove concludes: "Every-
one waiting here was once in
Content NSFW
... unless you
are a poet*
"Death is the mother of
beauty," Wallace Stevens tells
us. In this case he means that
the beauty of a love poem, of love
itself, is tied up in its potential
to be lost. Poetry is a politicking
with loss, which in love poetry
means depicting the supreme
overthrow of our rational selves
that occurs when we fall in love.
And ultimately, love poetry
presents love as our one consol-
ing defense against the inevi-
tability of death. Take Eavan
Boland's "Quarantine," a poem
set amid the Irish potato fam-
ine, "in the worst hour of the
worst season / of the worst year
of a whole people." A man and
woman die of hunger and cold,
and are discovered later with
"her feet ... held against his
breastbone. / The last heat of his
flesh was his last gift to her."
This is not material for TV
commercials or, for that matter,
for much love poetry, with its
"praise of the easy graces and
sensuality of the body." Boland
offers only "this merciless inven-
tory," of "what they suffered.
How they lived. / And what
there is between a man and a
woman. /And in what darkness
it can best be proved."
The joy and fear of that last
line is something I've found

nowhere else but in poetry and
in love.

In her landmark book "Homo
Aestheticus," anthropologist
Ellen Dissanayake addresses the
classic issue of culture versus
biology: Why do people make
art? Why do they respond to art
in the way they do? Aestheticism,
she says, is our way of bracketing
things off as a way to cope with
life's more unexpected events -
whether marriage, birth, death
or war. It is not a parenthetical
luxury that can be dispensed
with whenever we don't have the
time or resources to produce it -
it's intrinsic to our very beings, a
mechanism for survival.
"Having worked at the hospi-
tal for 21 years, I do think art is
a basic, primal, human response,"
said Elaine Sims, the director of
the University Health System's
Gifts of Art program. "People's
response to aesthetic or sound -
in primitive times, it was proba-
blyyour mother's voice, or sounds
that meant things were safe, or
visual things that meant, 'This is
my clan or family' -I think these
things are kind of hot-wired in."
In a hospital setting, lives and
responses become irrevocably
altered. This is where Gifts of
Art enters the picture. Through a
series of traveling exhibits, musi-
cal performances and healing
gardens, the program uses art
to recenter patients from the ill-
nesses that comes to define them,
to bringthem back into the fold of
"When you're in a hospital,
you're up in a space pod in outer
space," Sims said. "I mean, your
whole world slips away from you.
It's just you and that scary, scary
reason why you're in the hospital.
And your whole world shrinks to
Sims added: "(Art) really sig-
nals all those things about self
identity - being human and being
there versus, 'It's my illness, I
haveno control.'Itkeeps bring-
ing you into the moment, bringing
you back where you need to be, to
get through what you have to get
Gifts of Art originally began at
the University as an offshoot of
a University of Iowa program in
1987. Sims stepped up to the role of
director three years later and has
been championing the field ever
since. Today, the program has 54
rotating exhibits that are viewed
by over 10,000 people a day and
encompass all sensory mediums
- visual, auditory and tactile.
Studies have shown that
patients respond more favorably
to nature scenes, baby animals
and French impressionists, so
these types of art are often shown.
For individual rooms, volunteers
also wheel around an Art Cart,
a lending library that provides
framed artwork for patients - its

number now totals 1,000 for the
900-bed hospital.
"Patients become very, very
attached to the art, sometimes in
a magical or mystical way," Sims
said. "If they had a good result,
somehow it had to do with this
picture - or this picture pleased
them, or helped them through a
dark time."
Studies have shown patients
who are exposed to art are calmer
- they have lower blood pressure,
need less pain medication and
require a shorter stay at the hos-
pital. That's not to say, however,
that any abstract, color-splattered
Jackson Pollock painting or red,
severed hand sculpture will be
able to hasten the healing process.
If a patient is sick on a hospital
bed, mind addled by medication
or the stress of the situation, he or
she needs to be comforted.
"For people in the hospital, it's
not a time to be challenged, it's not
a time for ambiguity - your mind
doesn't have the energy to work
at anything," Sims said. "Things
that are like comfort food, that are
familiar, that take you back when
you were young and protected are
the best kinds of art."
Music, in particular, causes
cells to release substances like
endorphins, which are the same
pleasure-producing chemicals
that give us runner's highs, and
immunoglobulins, which help to
fight disease.
In this vein of thinking, Sims
has recently been looking to
expand Gifts of Art within the
auditory spectrum. The Life
Sciences Orchestra, which was
founded in 2000, is composed
entirely of caregivers, staff and
science students and presents
two free concerts to the pub-
lic each year. Last month, the
orchestra performed Mahler's
"Resurrection" symphony at
Hill Auditorium to an audience
of thousands. During the sum-
mer, some musicians from the
orchestra play in smaller cham-
ber groups in the hospital's
courtyard for patients to enjoy.
But Sims's personal favor-
ite is the Bedside Music Pro-
gram, a 70-hour-a-week outfit
that provides musical therapy
at the bedside of a sick patient.
Currently, there are three full-
time music practitioners who
perform a variety of songs on
guitar, voice and viola. The pro-
gram is particularly popular in
the intensive care units - dur-
ing a particularly harrowing ill-
ness or at the end of life.
"That's so immediate, so
intimate," Sims said. "It's right
there in the moment where peo-
ple really need it."
Art for healing's sake is part
of a larger, country-wide move-
ment known as integrative

All 1,700 of the dragon's scales were made by hospital patients and staff.

medicine - a practice that empha-
sizes the doctor-patient relation-
ship and pays attention to the
entire mind, body and spirit of the
person rather than just the affect-
ed parts. Incorporated in this are
alternative methods that utilize a
number of therapies across disci-
plines in order to support optimal
health and healing, among them
acupuncture, herbal supplements,
yoga, mind-body imagery and
preventative medicine.
Dr. Sara Warber, the direc-
tor and founder of the University
Integrative Medicine Program,
studied herbalism and spiritual
healing for 14 years during her
fellowship under the direction of
a local Native American healer.
Warber was clear to distinguish
integrative medicine as supple-

mentary to conventional medi-
cine, rather than alternative.
"It's actually combined with
conventional care and is pur-
posefully selected by physicians
who are trained to know what to
select," she said.
In order to foster this closer
personal relationship, integrative
physicians tryto get to know their
patients better initially, focusing
a larger amount of time on pre-
ventative healing and by offer-
ing longer visits. In their clinics,
they strive to promote a healthier
hospital environment, providing
patients with softer lighting and
more ergonomic furniture.
Research in this field tends
to pay more attention to daily
environmental effects on human

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