After years of observing the impact poetry had in my private psychotherapy practice, I decided to bring the practice of poetry to more than just one person at a time. In talks and presentations, I use poetry as a way to engage people creatively, playfully, and consciously with their lives.
Each talk is designed to meet the needs of the group and each poem is chosen to help participants connect to the topic in a way that bypasses linear thought and speaks to the heart. What poetry offers which ordinary speech can’t is a direct and visceral poke at what matters to people about whatever theme is under investigation. “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,” says Emily Dickinson. The talks are conversational, interspersed with poems, and responsive to who and what is in the room. They invite people to connect with their humanity, their power, and their curiosity.
Frontline workers in healthcare, students, teachers, spiritual leaders, community groups as well as real estate agents, have been among those who have attended my presentations. Recent talks include The Journey is Not Without Passengers: Moving Forward with Compassionate Health Care, The Reflecting Poem (or what can poetry “do?”)
Use these poems as breaks in meetings that become tense
and threaten. Use them to alter the wind in the room,
the sail in the boat can fill and go a different direction…
Use these poems to keep you warm any way you can.
Burn them. Their smoke won’t smell like incense but they will go up and you will forget. Memory isn’t necessary.
—Ronna Bloom, from “Use These Poems” in Cloudy with a Fire in the Basement
The workshops I offer can respond to and generate all kinds of questions and conversations. Sometimes they deal with understanding stuckness, sometimes they address specific group interests. I have given workshops to nurses on waking up the senses, to a human rights and equity team on writing poems that unite and represent them, and to people juggling work and home on discovering where balance lies at any given moment.
Workshops are not like meetings which rationally or intellectually approach problem solving. Rather by exploring via poetry, I help participants to open their hearts and minds to their own possibilities. The seeds of what’s possible become visible. The workshop can begin a process of change on several levels: the individual, the group, and sometimes the organization itself.
After one or two consultations, I will create a workshop that addresses the needs of your particular group. Favourite workshops include “Writing Your Way Out of A Paper Bag” about how we get stuck – personally or professionally – and ways to move forward; “Awake at Work” which offers simple ways to get present wherever you are; and “What If You Didn’t? And Other Questions to Ask When You’re Exhausted,” a playful take on work/life balance and what it might look like to slow down.
The workshops offer poems as prompts for writing about whatever topic is under investigation. They serve as a way to look closely at a subject while not going at it with the same head-down labour which direct speech sometimes encourages. Poems can stir empathy, reflection, compassion, and awareness.
There’s never any expectation to share what was written in the workshops, though people often surprise themselves. It’s an intensive, focused and playful approach to education, professional development and change.
I have led workshops at University of Toronto, Ryerson, Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, and ReMax; for writers’ groups in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, and Santiago, Chile and for students across Ontario. “The Job of An Apple” appears in the Grade 11 textbook, “Viewpoints 11” and is used frequently in workshops.
The Job of an Apple
The job of an apple is to be hard,
to be soft, to be crisp, to be red,
yellow and green. The job of an apple is to be pie,
to be given to the teacher, to be rotten.
The job of an apple is to be bad
and good, to be peeled, cored, cut,
bitten and bruised. The job
of an apple is to pose for painters,
roll behind fridges, behind grocery aisles,
to be hidden, wrapped in paper,
stored for months, brought out in the dry heat
of India and eaten like a treasure.
The job of an apple is to be
handed over in orchards, to be wanted
and forbidden. The job of an apple is to be Golden
Delicious, Granny Smith and crab. The job
of an apple is to be imported, banned and confiscated
going through customs from Montreal to New York.
The job of an apple is to be round. Grow. Drop.
To go black in the middle when cut. To be thrown
at politicians. To be carried around for days. To change
hands, to change hands, to change hands.
The job of an apple is to be a different poem in the mouth
of every eater. The job of an apple is to be juice.
Fear of The Ride
Carleton University Press, 1996
As a physical place, a retreat is a refuge from everyday tasks and distractions. The word retreat also suggests taking a step back to see what is revealed from a greater distance. From this space it is sometimes possible to see a direction for a new and meaningful leap. Retreats are a good fit with my approach by allowing room, space and time to experience the process in which we engage.
I encourage people to attend to their experiences using uninhibited self-expression through their writing. There is no evaluation and no pressure to share what is written. Each retreat is honed to the group, their vocation and their needs. Retreats can last a day, an entire weekend, or longer. A more hands on experience than a conference talk, a retreat allows participants to listen more deeply and do more writing
What if in the middle of a lobby, a person seated at a table asked you if you needed a poem and what that poem might be about? And what if in the middle of that lobby they wrote it for you, charged you a dollar, and gave it to you? This is one of the things I do. I call this The Spontaneous Poetry Booth.
Previously described as “poetry on demand,” the booth is a way to involve people in a moment of self reflection that results in a poem. The process is quite simple: after asking you two or three questions, I will write you a poem in five minutes or less. This may not sound extraordinary, but I seem to be able to write a poem, for a person I don’t know, that often expresses feelings they have hardly begun to articulate.
Some people laugh, and some tear up when they read their poem. Either way, my mission is to write and hand over a poem that captures that particular moment for that person. The booth is suitable anywhere, but has found a home at wellness exhibitions and book fairs. (I’ve even enjoyed the high-wire act of writing one on live radio.)
Hear what the CBC had to say about their spontaneous poem.
The Spontaneous Poetry Booth for groups is an offering I bring to wider audiences, meetings, and events. It is derived from many years of experience with The Spontaneous Poetry Booth. What I do is to listen to the group and write a poem on the spot. My aim is to reach in to the meat of the meeting so that the group can hear what they’ve been saying at a level deeper than they are aware. It has been extraordinarily powerful and productive.
In one occasion, I was asked to sit in on a series of meetings and write a poem about them. With thousands of words uttered by many different people, I worked to capture the essence of what was said. I received this note the next day from the facilitator:
“Your words channeled us yesterday, so powerfully and beautifully. And your artistry in real time simulated the very risk and relationality we were exploring to making trust tangible. I’ve … never have had an artist reduce the facts and argument from such a session into the essential take-away.”
-John Dalla Costa, Founder, Centre for Ethical Orientation
The poem, which I present at the end of the session in its raw form, is not a summary, but (with luck!) it is a poem that captures the affect as well as the meaning from the meeting. It offers back to participants not just the facts of their day but the heat and spirit of what brought them there. Here’s one that was written spontaneously during a meeting on Organizational Trust.
Civility Among The Metrics
When you institute the necessary leanness.
When the tough standard comes in
on its dark road. How do we respond?
How to generate a light that’s inviting?
That makes it possible to see
amid the curves and cut-offs?
How to travel the road in a way
that’s clear, and gives back
We need civility,
and not by protocol
by heart. To remember
that the journey is not without passengers
and ask how to carry ourselves and each other with courage
Ronna Bloom, 2013
Out of every chaotic moment, something creative can come. In every creative endeavour something chaotic lives. It’s what we work with. Art is risky.
People create for lots of reasons, among them: to explore, witness, reject, praise, express, wrestle with, and make sense of themselves and their world. Writers and other artists generally do this alone.
This coaching, while not therapy, borders therapeutic conversations. I work with you to clarify what it is you want to say, and to direct you towards your unfolding material in a way that supports the process. The format is often a combination of online and in-person meetings. Single sessions can have powerful effect too. While my area is poetry, I also work with prose writers and visual artists. People engaged in all media are welcome.
Poetry can make leaps. It can capture sensations, emotions, and truth in just a few breaths. It gets the point across, but not without waking the reader, and making them feel something.
Ronna’s commissioned poems have been displayed privately in houses, but also publicly in institutions (and on T-Shirts!). She is especially interested in commissions where poetry collaborates with architecture. It’s an opportunity to help shape the experience of a physical space that people travel through everyday.
Ronna is interested in getting people to rediscover the meaning in their work, the pleasure in their work, why they decided to do it in the first place. Creative expression helps many people get there.
Ronna is a very gifted facilitator; blending her love of language with a spirit of play and a great respect for individual's needs and experiences.
The insight, attention, and creative rigour Ronna brings to her offerings can and does deepen academic discourse, perspective, and reflective capacity.
Ronna will instantly captivate your employees and guide them through an extraordinary experience as they discover a whole new way to see the meaning in everyday work and life.
Ronna’s workshops are not only educational, content-rich and fun, they evoke spiritual experiences for me. I would describe my experience in her classes and workshops as transformational. While in the moment, I don’t know the extent of the difference her exercises are making, they work on me for weeks after.
I've heard lots of talks, but never have had an artist reduce the facts and argument from such a session into the essential take-away.