Poetry Contest An Outlet For Those Affected By Cancer

The Falmouth Public Library and Cape Cod Healthcare are teaming up to host Poetry of Pain and Survival, a writing contest for people affected by cancer.

The competition follows on the heels of Cancer Survivor Day the first Saturday in June.

“Almost everyone is touched by cancer, either personally or they have family members or co-workers,” said Adrienne Latimer, reference librarian and event coordinator at the library.

For the organizers, Ms. Latimer and Deborah Crockett Rice, cancer outcome specialist at Falmouth Hospital, the contest offers a way for people to express their feelings and work through their experience with cancer.

“It’s a release being able to write a poem,” Ms. Crockett-Rice said. “You are releasing your grief and sadness and emotions, which is restorative.”

Ms. Latimer and Ms. Crockett-Rice have teamed up each year since 2009 to recognize Cancer Survivor Day at a local level. The cancer research center in the library was their first collaboration.

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Located in a corner in the reference area, the nook offers information from national and local organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute and Hope Community Care in Hyannis. Patients, family members and caregivers can take the information free of charge.

The hospital offers the same materials, but the library is open six days a week and offers a neutral place for people to browse in private, Ms. Crockett-Rice said.

The two have organized other events to recognize cancer survivors, including the Fabric of Hope in 2012, where people contributed pieces to make a quilt.

Ms. Crockett-Rice learned about the idea of a poetry contest from a short article in the “New Yorker” magazine that mentioned a partnering between Yale School of Medicine and University College London, which held a joint poetry contest for medical students as a way for them to take a more holistic view of the patient and end-of-life issues.

Ms. Latimer recognized that there is an interest in poetry in Falmouth with several groups meeting at the local libraries.

Ms. Crockett-Rice also has her own connection to a famous poet, Sylvia Plath. Ms. Crockett-Rice’s father, Wilbury Crockett, who was the head of the English department at Wellesley High school, was a mentor of and taught Ms. Plath when she was a teenager.

As an adult Ms. Crockett- Rice directed a theater piece based on excerpts from Ms. Plath’s journal and poems. Ms. Plath’s mother attended the production.

“Her mother had not seen anything about her daughter in 16 years,” Ms Crockett-Rice said. “It was a wonderful night.”

People of all ages can submit poems for the contest. They can be dropped off at Falmouth Public Library reference desk or Eight Cousins Books by July 26.

A reception and poetry reading where prizes will be announced will be held at 10 AM on August 23 at the library.

Three judges, poet Alice B. Kociemba, therapist Lindsay M. Hopewood and breast cancer survivor and poet Christine R. Ernst will review the poems between the submission deadline and the August receptions.

Prizes include an Eight Cousins Books gift card, Maison Villatte Bakery gift card and a Kaleidoscope Toy gift card for younger particpants.

Ms. Kociemba has seen the healing effects of art in her profession and her own life. She was the caregiver to her mother and brother, who both died from cancer. 

“A lot of people have trauma,” Ms. Kociemba said. “They start to write to heal.”

Ms. Ernst is a breast cancer survivor of 13 years. She said she had written mostly bad love poems before she was sick. After her diagnosis, she used her journal to work through her feelings, feeling very alone as a young woman and a single mother with cancer.

“Cancer allowed me to become a writer,” Ms. Ernst said.

She took her journal entries and wrote a play, “Reconstruction or How I learned to pay Attention.” Ms. Ernst perfomed the show about 45 times in the New England area with her 8-year old daughter working as the stage manager. She continues to perform and teaches at Cotuit Center for the Arts.

"It doesn’t matter if you are a writer,” Ms. Ernst said. “To record your story in your own colloquial voice is powerful medicine.”

For the judges, a strong poem is one that speaks to everyone.

“When people write poetry it is about all of us.” Ms. Kociemba said.

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