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To Awaken Soulfulness in the Human Voice

A Message from Geoff & Leslie Oelsner on Behalf of The Institute for Poetic Medicine.  Leslie and Geoff sit with their heads together in front of a field of flowers, both people are smiling.

Dear Friends of the Institute for Poetic Medicine,

The mission statement of the IPM is:

“To awaken soulfulness in the human voice.”

This awakening is indeed a kind of medicine, in that most psychological issues involve some element of repressed expression of things that needed to be said but which one was unable, afraid or even prohibited to say.

My wife Leslie and I are making a $20K donation to IPM—we ask you to add your own contribution to ours with a goal of matching this amount by the end of April to help sustain and strengthen the healing, awakening work of The Institute for Poetic Medicine.

I love this poem by Mary Oliver, which relates to the process of finding and freeing one’s own authentic voice, beyond the limits of mimicry:

The Mockingbird

All summer

the mocking bird

in his pearl-gray coat

and his white-windowed wings


from the hedge to the top of the pine

and begins to sing, but it’s neither

lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sound—

whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges

plus all the songs

of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,

he sings with humor and bravado

so I have to wait a long time

for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins

by giving up all his usual flutter

and setting down on the pine’s forelock

then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;

then he slaps each wing against his breast,

where his heart is,

and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it

as though it was not half so easy

as rollicking,

as though his subject now

was his true self,

which of course was as dark and secret,

as anyone else’s

and it was too hard—

perhaps you understand—

to speak or to sing it

to anything or anyone

but the sky.

There are certainly many possible cures for our psychophysical ills, not all of them verbal, but freeing one’s voice to speak or write one’s truth can frequently bring deep relief and healing. As the writer Barbara Brown Taylor puts it:

“the air clears and the aliveness flows through all the spaces in between.”

Poet/nature photographer NanLeah and I have co-led the annual IPM Poetry of Nature writing group for the past three years. We’ve seen how the joy of sharing poetry in the supportive company of other poets frees up expression, and the depth and breadth of our breath.

This group is growing me, bringing forward hidden voices I can feel and occasionally hear in my own speech and singing. Listening as we read our poetry aloud to each other leads me into further embodiment and presence. Our Poetry of Nature group has been a warm communal experience of growing trust, freedom of speech and what poet John Keats called “soul making.”

Over the past eleven years as a member of the IPM Board and faculty, I’ve witnessed IPM’s increasing number of programs catalyze hope, growth and community in the USA and other countries:

  • The IPM website gives notice of John Fox’s brilliantly evocative workshops, and a diversity of poets whose groups and workshops liberate authentic voice. They offer resources and inspiration to community activists and environmental change agents. These short term workshops and ongoing groups enable participants to reach far into what has been “dark and secret” in themselves and bring it into the light.

  • Our Poetry Partner Programs extend that healing reach into some of the most marginalized communities across the country, funding poets to lead groups for disadvantaged, unwell, unheard, underprivileged, marginalized groups of people.

  • Facilitator training programs offered by IPM, including the Poetry as a Tool for Wellness training and manual, provide superb tools for anyone to facilitate therapeutic writing groups in their communities.

  • Training professionals in the field and peers within any community allows us to bring poetry to pastoral care, medicine and education.

  • Our three-year Certified Training Program in the practice of poetry-as-healer empowers poets to carry poetic medicine to their own diverse communities.

  • We’re building our interactive online community through blog posts and the new Commons where all can share their poetry on our IPM website. Our online programs are able to reach audiences around the world including a recent training program based in Hong Kong.

None of this can happen without ongoing donations. As mentioned above, my wife Leslie and I are making a $20K donation to IPM—we ask you to add your own contribution to ours with a goal of matching this amount to help sustain and strengthen the healing, awakening work of The Institute for Poetic Medicine.

With Warm Regards,

Geoffrey and Leslie Oelsner


Donate online using a link to this matching fund found on the IPM donations page:

Checks can be mailed to:

The Institute for Poetic Medicine

PO Box 60189

Palo Alto, CA 94306

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