Poetic Therapy in America

Poetic therapy – as well as bibliotherapy and music therapy – was first employed in 1751 at Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in the U.S. (founded by Benjamin Franklin). Dr. Benjamin Rush, who served on the Penn Hospital staff and was considered the Father of American Psychiatry, introduced music and literature to his patients. They published their poetry in a self-run newspaper called The Illuminator.

In the 1950s, Eli Greifer, a NY-based poet, pharmacist, and lawyer, started a “poem therapy” group at Creedmore State Hospital. In 1959, Greifer facilitated a poetry therapy group at Cumberland Hospital with psychiatrist Dr. Jack Leedy. After Griefer’s death, Dr. Leedy went on to create the Association for Poetry Therapy.

In 1985, John Fox began training under poetic therapist Joy Shieman at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, CA. Fox went on to become the founder of the The Institute for Poetic Medicine (1996). He also published the definitive workbook in the field, Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making (1997).

Rafael Campo, MD, he has been one of the most influential advocates for the Medical Humanities and the therapeutic value of poetry for both patient and practitioner. Dr. Campo earned an MD from Harvard Medical School before publishing his first collection of poems, The Other Man Was Me: A Voyage to the New World, which won the National Poetry Series Open Competition in 1993. His second book, What the Body Told (1996) was awarded the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry.

Dr. Campo practices internal medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston and serves as the poetry editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). He is also the director of Writing and Literature programs for the Arts and Humanities Initiative at Harvard Medical School.

The History of Revisionary Arts

Incorporated in July of 2020, Revisionary Arts (RA) was founded by Dr. Rosemarie Dombrowski, inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix, AZ, and born out of several years of facilitating therapeutic poetry workshops for both the community and the university, including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Changing Hands Bookstore, and Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University.

Rosemarie’s engagement with medical poetry began almost two decades ago, when she began writing poems about neuro-atypicality and physiological disorders, both of which have shaped the past twenty years of her life. As the parent and primary caregiver to an individual with nonverbal Autism (and a host of other disabilities), her investment in biomedical research eventually led her to therapeutic poetry and the medical humanities. After receiving a Poet Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets in May 2020, she was inspired to create RA and make therapeutic poetry a more widely recognized augmentative therapeutic modality in Phoenix.

Due, in part, to RA’s partnership with the University of Arizona’s Narrative Medicine program (Phoenix biomedical campus), we’ve been able to grow our reach, forging partnerships with clinical and nonclinical facilities, grassroots organizations as well as nationally recognized ones.