Wednesday, June 17, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 17


Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 2

6/17/1987. Day Two. I begin at 10 AM, a light day scheduled. I work with artist Linda Wargo's S – 2 Ward, adolescent training program – they're supposed to be shielded from the adults. Except for us, so I'm a novelty. It is easier to work with them, I'm on familiar ground. They're supposed to be low achievers and I think they do just fine, considering. I really like this group.

We write poems to pictures and photographs. We make one group poem. And I'm amazed by how many students can recite poems from memory. Shantell keeps saying this poem is embarrassing, and then launches into these incredible raps that are spiritual and holy. Spontaneous combustion of poetry. I think the work is his, not something repeated. 

I find that I need to make some basic rules with them, and to be much clearer. Chaos is quick to rise otherwise. I worked with them from 10 to 11:30 AM, and then I was told they couldn't handle it. Ha! 

Only one girl, Julie, was in the group.  I had to draw her out. We talked about where we were born, etc. A lot of male energy in this group. Mostly Latino and African American inner city kids—many from the East Bay. Motivating them isn't difficult. Getting in-depth poetry, and not fragments may be harder to do, because they're not used to writing, or writing in-depth the way I do.

Later, I meet with Eric, from the Q 9–10 geriatric ward and, and his psychiatrist, a tiny Korean woman in a classic white doctor's coat—they're both late. He has trouble disassociate himself from her.

I don't know whether it's a mistake having her here because Eric carries on his therapy session with her. I am invisible. I'm frustrated with this arrangement, because I don't want to be rude and break into their conversation, but if I don't, nothing will happen. 

I will need to be firm about taking the stage. The patients are so used to talking and having the therapist listen. But I need to establish with them that I am not a therapist. I need tools so that I can channel and focus their attention on creativity. I say something to that effect. 

I collect phrases from him and utilize them. It's about love. We make a group poem. They both like what is happening during the session, and  he says he'll come back. He was a bit crabby and a bit of a primadonna. It was a case of the I – me me me syndrome. He says God, all these crazies sound like college professors and poets! Now in the real world....

Andrew is a funny sort. A huge hat completely swallows his head. He says: I want to learn calligraphy. That's the most coherent thing he can say, or do. I find it difficult to get him to do anything at all. He might not have the fine motor skills, though he did manage to make ten pen-widths on his paper just fine, so maybe there's hope. 

I had him write his name and I showed him how to form the letters in italic cursive. He had trouble following the simplest instructions.

At one point, he talked to himself into his hat, and froze for a few moments, and then resumed writing, as if nothing had happened. He said, I can't write Andrew. I'm not Andrew anymore. I have a printing press inside of me. I tell him he should write poetry then. I seriously wonder if I'll make any difference in his life.

Life at Napa so orderly, I have a hard time adjusting. The library closes from 12 to 1 PM sharp. I mean, shut up tighter than a tick! No place for me to go. The whole hospital stops dead at noon, and then again it repeats the shutdown at 4 PM. A strange, inexorable beast. Clockwork Orange.

There's lots of free time for me to work on ideas, but the structure time is inviolate. Patients don't have very much free time to themselves, and going to the library is part of their free time privileges. Some patients only have half an hour a day to themselves. To have 2+ hours a day is a privilege! I am honored that they choose to spend it with me. I have much to think about and process on the drive home.

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