Janet Hull Ruffin is an artist, arts educator and poet. She is finishing a book of poems showing what it's like to work with critically ill children in a major cancer center. She focuses on hospital culture, the therapeutic nature of art and spirituality.
She retired from MD Anderson in January 2009 after serving as the art teacher in the Children's Cancer Hospital for more than 10 years. Her position was special because the time she spent with patients and their families was not about diagnoses, examinations or treatments. They made art together. Currently, she volunteers with the Children's Art Project working with pediatric patients.
"When we are most intensely alive -- startled into alertness by love or pain or fear -- we perceive with an added acuteness too often either forgotten or lost to distraction."
Jane Hirshfield, "Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry"
A poet sits with a moment and waits to feel what energy is there, waits to receive the images and metaphors and waits to be surprised by what comes. At the same time, the poet's task is to convey the authenticity of the experience.
During the time I worked at the hospital, a mother told me that her deceased mother appeared to her son many times in the last months of his life. When he finally died, she felt like she handed her son over to her mother. In a poem I wrote:
sensed something before it happened. Grabbing
both his hands, she tried to hold him to the earth.
In a breath her
heart splintered, shattered. A warmth, a vibration
pressed into her back, cradled her shoulders, slid
down her arms and caressed the hands that held
her son. She released him to her mother.
I have changed the patient's name and this is not a completely factual report of what the mother told me. This poem is not memoir, but my creative response to a moment in time.
The same process can occur in the visual arts. A few years ago when the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Texas Medical Center was imploded, I took my camera and walked around the site. Looking through the fence I saw a pile of rubble that looked like collapsed columns with hieroglyphs burned on them.
I photographed these "columns" and then created a mixed media painting titled "Imploding Hieroglyphs." Underneath the layers of paint, paper and acrylic mediums are copies of the actual photographs.
Look around for your "moment" and see what you create from it.