It is my privilege to commend to you poet and poetry therapist John Fox and his workshop on Poetry and Medicine. Over the course of three decades as a chaplain and pastoral educator, I have had the opportunity to be involved in countless seminars, workshops, and continuing education. What John Fox does is an example of the more memorable and transformative experiences I have had.

~ Mike Saxton, Manager, Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy Services, Indiana University Health, Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis, Indiana

  • Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making

    What is the Healing Art of Poem-Making?

    “Just enjoy the process of listening and being listened to,” he said.  So I did.  I was humbled by the newness of it all.  I was exhilarated by the passion and depth of feeling that came up in people’s poetry.  I discovered parts of myself that long-ago vanished and needed a revisit.  At the end of the workshop, my mind had expanded.  This is psychology embracing creativity.  I now have a new therapy tool to use with my patients.  Thank you, John Fox.

    —Dr. Anne Webster, Benson-Henry Mind Body Medical Institute,
    Massachusetts General Hospital


    In this workshop ...

    John will invite the fresh sensibility and playfulness we knew as children.  He believes that welcoming the spirit of that child is essential.  His workshop will honor your unique, adult voice that has ripened over the years. The storms you have weathered, those times when you have thrived, the way the world has moved you – these deserve a place on the page.

    Drawing from a splendid range of sources, John encourages you to experiment with poetic tools of metaphor, sound, rhythm, imagery and symbol as remedies to connect with your wholeness and live with greater heart.  This is presented in a natural way, reminding us through examples that a poetic consciousness is not something reserved for literary experts but is your birthright.

    We will read poems by inspiring poets from all ethnicities and cultures and explore writing exercises that tune us to a variety of experience, including:  the poetry of earth and spirit, a life of feeling and relationship, the playfulness and power of language, responding to pain and life’s challenges, a sense of community, and the blessing of ordinary things.

    We will explore how stillness and empathic listening deepen the act of writing and writing as a healing journey.


    • The container of a poem – allows the essential elements distilled by your writing to be reflected upon, felt, explored and in the midst of that process, integrated.  When approached as a transformational experience and process, poem-making acts in a generative way.
    • That is, the poem can act as a seed or a spark.
    • That poem-seed can take root and grow giving shelter and shade.  The poem can nourish and provide raw material to build with.
    • The poem as a spark reveals unexpected and surprising insights.  It can light a fire of wisdom and return feeling and warmth to our lives.
    • The poem as a container is also a place where the full range of human experience – especially including grief and rage, the longing for connection and the making of meaning, the sense of injustice and working for justice, the intense paradox of life is held.   The grace of the poems is that we are not forced to split ourselves apart and live inauthentic lives.
    • The poem is a place for wholeness, ragged as it may sometimes be.
  • Poems of Witness: Living with Heart in a Conflicted World

    Thank you again for giving these marginalized men in our society an opportunity to experience the tenderness, fierceness and human qualities of life through the gift of poetry.

    —Lorie Adoff, Director of Spiritual Care Services

    California Men’s Colony Prison, San Luis Obispo, California


    Exploring Questions

    • How do you live in this world?
    • What do self-reflection and patience mean when it comes to living with deep witness to the world?
    • In the presence of injustice, violence and conflict, how do you recognize and return to a sense of hope within yourself and others?
    • How do we work towards a more humane world?
    • How do we teach our children to hold to a vision of joy, peace and social justice in the midst of so much strife?

    It is a challenge to find language in our culture that offers a humane and noble way of responding to seemingly intractable problems like social injustice, economic inequity, environmental destruction, oppression, terrorism and war.

    • Media tends to focus on surface issues, controversy and fear while politicians often rely on this and other divisive tactics, none of which encourages our hearts to truly and fiercely examine life or be open to something new.
    • How can we learn a language that helps us to bear witness to the what is actually going on and to the real needs of the world?
    • How can we listen in a way that allows for honesty, deep trust and humor, even playfulness?
    • How do we recognize and return to the heart that beats again and then again, within others, and us even in the midst of conflict

    We draw upon the experience of using the healing and transformational power of poetry to build community, attend to wounds and reclaim a language of the heart.

    We draw upon the poetry of Marge Piercy, Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, Nazim Hikmet, Yehudi Amachai, Naomi Shihab Nye, William Stafford,  Maya Angelou, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Denise Levertov, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mary TallMountain, Odysseus Elytis and young children from around the world and among others.

    This workshop is designed to promote and encourage poem-making that shares and shows the beauty, solace and power inherent in expressing our heart's truth.  That truth can include breaking the silence and naming the dishonesty, injustice and the violations to our humanness.

    We will explore how deepening a connection with this awareness empowers us to treasure differences and stand together on common ground.

  • Edges, Risks and Connections

    We’re all members of the Dead Poet’s Society and John is disinterring these dead poets in each of us

     and bringing them back to life.  It doesn’t take long, if you are simulated,

    to find yourself writing things that you had no idea were in your heart.

    —Jeremy Tarcher, publisher, Los Angeles, California

    Breaking Your Silence About What Matters to You

    If a person lives in a way requires both courage and tenderness that commitment may mean that he or she is called to step outside his or her comfort zone, rise above the popular status quo, reach beyond personal limitation and sometimes, walk a path others such as family, church and popular culture may not validate.

    • Where is your growing edge right now?
    • What does it mean to listen?  What is it like to speak out?
    • What kind of silences do you experience in your life?
    • Are there silences you experience that oppress you and others?
    • Are there silences that nourish mystery and lead to an experience of resonance, expansive well being?


    Silences that nourish:

    In her book Arts of the Possible, Adrienne Rich says this about poetry and these silences: “The impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence.  Every real poem is the breaking of existing silence, and the first question we might ask any poem is, What kind of voice is breaking silence, and what kind of silence is being broken?

    Silence can be fertilizing, it can bathe the imagination, it can, as in great open spaces, I think of those plains stretching far below the Hopi mesas in Arizona — be the nimbus of a way of life, a condition of vision.  Such living silences are more and more endangered throughout the world, by commerce and appropriation.”


    Once, many years ago, I was in front of 4th graders at a school in Fredericksburg, TX.  I didn’t think that teaching metaphor to them was where I wanted to start.  I was interested in the wisdom they already brought “to the table.”  So, I asked those children this question:  What would we lose in our world if we didn’t have poetry?

    Within moments four children responded giving me the four things essential to our human experience.  Without poetry the world, these would go missing;  —feeling, —imagination, —music, —memory.

    These children live in a world where they are connected deeply to these realms.  It is possible for adults to recover and reclaim this.

    I have kept all of these in mind when interacting with the thousands of people I have had the good fortune to do poem-making with.  I remember this is what we are keeping alive in the world!

    This workshop gives you permission to risk putting on the page your truth and experience.

    You are invited to make room for your imagination. By helping you pause to savor the particulars of the present moment and listen deeply to yourself and others, poetry can connect you with what matters and reveal a new voice that is your own, even the voice of Spirit.

    You are invited to a workshop that will help you cultivate the creative spark within yourself. You will learn how the healing art of poetry can be a trustworthy companion and "poetic medicine" in your quest to live a life that matters.

  • The Ways Poetry and Poem-making Enhance the Practice of Clinical Pastoral Education

    It is my privilege to commend to you poet and poetry therapist John Fox and his workshop on Poetry and Medicine. Over the course of three decades as a chaplain and pastoral educator, I have had the opportunity to be involved in countless seminars, workshops, continuing education. What John Fox does is an example of the more memorable and transformative experiences I have had.

    —Michael R. Saxton, Manager, Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy Services Indiana University Health, \

    Methodist Hospital Indianapolis, Indiana


    Since 1998 John has worked with people in the field of Pastoral & Spiritual Care, Chaplaincy and in particular, Clinical Pastoral Education.

    The following three session program is designed to support that work.

    Session 1:

    Poetic Medicine: An Exploration & Reflection on Poetry and Poem-Making As a Way to Invite the Sacred

    A lecture by John Fox that shows the landscape of poetry as healer – a range of examples of using poetry as expressive and evocative medium that applies particularly within a pastoral context.

    Session 2

    When a Healing Poem Is Sacred Place, Companion and Medicine

    An experiential writing and sharing that is intended to demonstrate the versatile yet inspiring applications of poetry and poem-making to pastoral care/CPE practice -- especially focused on personal renewal and self-care use.

    This is not like the poetry you were required to learn in school!  Our work is to create a gentle space so that people (who may have no experience with writing) feel permission to access the courage to creatively express them selves.

    This healing process is facilitated by an intentional use of poetry and other literature: poems are chosen that meet the needs of those receiving support.  These are poems that speak to both heart and mind.

    This writing process, intrinsically a deep sharing between people, is made sacred with non-judgmental and mindful listening.  This kind of listening is no different than the respectful space sought for in the practice of CPE.  This listening builds trust and is a catalyst for healthy risk.

    It is my experience that poetry as healer can bolster and support key elements of practice essential to the givers of pastoral care. We believe that while we can discern each of these  “elements” on their own, in fact, they are actually integrated as a whole experience.

    Session 3:

    Applications (and Revelations!) of Poetry as Healing

    In a “poetic medicine” workshop, a gentle space is created where people access the courage to creatively express themselves.

    This healing process is facilitated by an intentional use of writing and literature. It is made sacred with non-judgmental and mindful listening.  This kind of listening helps you to see other people more clearly and compassionately, and even more, see yourself with that same clarity and compassion.

    We will explore these themes:

    (I have chosen poems that express these key elements – at time as a whole, at other times, bringing an element into individual focus.  I would like to give you a sense for these elements of practice with a brief description for each – knowing that there is more than one way of describing them.)

    The heart cries out

    A blank page will accept anything

    and without judgment –

    poetry helps a person to feel their lives rather than be numb.


    A poem and the expression of it has many facets;

    by listening, we learn how to pay attention to those facets,

    and further, how to sensitively respond,


    Writing poems allows a person to break hurtful silencing;

    when authenticity and truth-telling are expressed, a sacred shared silence  is often the best response hearts can share.



    Self-discovery and surprise that come to a person when they express themselves through poem-making are the result of the poem revealing to that person who they truly are.

    Not knowing

    A poetic medicine practitioner is trained to not provide answers

    but to affirm and support this kind of discovery.



    Seems hard and barren.

    A shovel made of just a few words,

    Unearthed earth.

    Just below the surface

    Teeming raw life.

    —Michael Rice Saxton, February 2014


  • The Soul's Language: A workshop on Sacred Poetry

    John Fox does with words what the mystics do with prayer.  He draws people in to

     participate naturally and from their own being.

    —The Reverend Channing R. Smith, Rector,

    Transfiguration Episcopal Church, Belmont, California

    What language does your soul speak?

    The experience of meeting the sacred in the world, in nature, within yourself or another person, is difficult to express in words. Your deep breath, a look of awe, the upwelling feeling of love from a deep inward place, a shattering of old ways of thinking, the caring embrace of another, tears streaming down your cheeks or simple silence opening out – all these are sometimes the only way to express this ineffable, wordless space.

    Another way to revive this connection to Spirit is through poetry. Poem-making is the language of your heart.  When I say “heart” I am not excluding the most visceral of feelings.

    This workshop is designed to evoke your unique soul voice.

    Such a deep ache is often where the soul voice begins! There is no one else who can express your experience of living life.

    This workshop will explore the question: What opens your heart?

    We will look at the way sacred poetry and our own writing can help tune us to choice, insight, possibility and joy. Using, among others,  the poetry of Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Hildegard of Bingen, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Thomas Merton, Emily Dickinson, Kabir, Jane Kenyon, young children, Mary TallMountain, Zen poets, and Psalms of David; poets that tune us to a sacred presence and inspire our writing.

    Throughout the workshop, we will savor these poems and find ways to enter the sacred space of what unfolds from within us and can surround and hold us when we listen deeply.

  • At the Bend in the River

    We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.

    ~ David Brower Founder, Sierra Club

    At the Bend in the River is a place of gathering and flow, community and creativity, a fresh shift in perception and a turning place: a surprise felt in the current. We approach all of these through the process of poem-making.

    Over the course of this retreat we will:

    • slow down, even allow for stillness, listen to our own flow
    • place value on silence, in silence, hold silence as much as possible
    • open to and connect with the poem and the person making the poem
    • write as much as possible, without rush, feeling the river bend

    When poetry and poem-making are part of this life-giving process, like a river, they make experience more vivid and help us be more aware of what we hear at the river’s bend:

    the space,
    the learning,

    the creative process, the heart connection.

    Freshness makes my attention more vibrant. Emptying out releases me from a judging/ comparing mind so greater room is made for what I hear, for what I write, and what I can take to heart.

  • Writing Our Relationship with Trees

    In our workaday world, we are no longer present to the natural world in any manner.

    We no longer see trees as other beings to commune with.  We are not taught to make

    that connection, not encouraged to speak of trees this way.

    — Thomas Berry on Our Broken Connection to the Natural World


    In this retreat weekend we will explore and strengthen our relationship with trees. We will slow down to listen to what these sacred beings can teach us.

    To make this journey, we will use poetry and poem-making as a way to express and describe this relationship with ourselves, one another and within the larger context of living as stewards of this planet, express it as part of the fabric of the cosmos.

    During this retreat we will explore:

    • trees of childhood
    • trees and deep roots
    • trees and their names
    • trees and metaphor
    • trees and environmental destruction
    • trees and presence
    • trees and elegy

    Please bring a story (or poem) about a single tree or a forest, or an orchard, or a grove of trees, whatever is significant to you, a photograph and/or object connected to a relationship with a tree that has made a difference to you in your life, somehow changed how you see yourself and the world around you, including the cosmos.

    For the Future

    Planting trees early in spring

    we make a place for birds to sing

    in time to come.  How do we know?

    They are singing here now.

    There is no other guarantee

    that singing will ever be.

    —Wendell Berry




Poetic Medicine programs will inform, encourage and uplift anyone with a desire to express their deeper truth and creativity.  John's work offers a safe and healing space, especially for individuals who feel they are marginalized in our culture, who live with life altering illnesses, who are children and elders, who are Veterans, who long to rekindle their soul voice.


People working in therapeutic, healing, medical, educational and pastoral professions will benefit deeply and find practical support as they reconnect to the inner impulse and call that first drew them to their profession.  The process of John's work will make it possible for helping professionals to reclaim inner resources that will sustain them in their daily lives.


We believe poem-making is something every person can have access to, at virtually any time or place.  John's expertise is to provide a nonjudgmental environment and the skillful means to courageously claim that right for yourself.  When shared in a community of other people, we believe this creative process is magnified and the healing power is increased.

If you are just beginning to explore writing or have been writing for a long time, this work with poetry as healer will encourage and refresh you.

Examples of Programs Available:

Co-sponsored Programs

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