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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

The Healing Power in Poetry

"In this space today, I will rewrite my story.” These words are grounding, motivating and an inspirational influence for former City of Phoenix Poet Laureate, educator, author, publisher, and community activist Dr. Rosemarie Dombrowski. Her work to bring poetry for healing to the College of Medicine at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona-Phoenix is the new frontier for research in Humanities and Medicine.

Rosemarie began this life journey in St. Joseph, MO, growing up with parents who were not artistically inclined but were inspirationally gifted and unwaveringly supportive of their daughter's potential to be anything she desired. This enthusiasm and get-out-of-the-way attitude in parenting resulted in Rosemarie being invited to join the Missouri Theater Dance Company at 13; she was the group’s youngest member. In Rosemarie's words, "The gift of a lifetime."  By age 14, she and her mom moved from a small, closed-minded Midwest community to Phoenix, a city that was a breath of fresh air with a nurturing landscape and a growing arts community.

Rosemarie has loved literature, particularly poetry, since childhood. However, her interest in poetry took on new meaning when she was introduced to it in high school. One of her dance teachers suggested she choreograph a piece of spoken/recited poetry for one of her original dances. Rosemarie followed this path right into her undergraduate studies at Arizona State University. At the time, her explorations were about the cross-culturally relationship between dance and poetry in African American and West African texts. Her investigations swept her off into West African dance, literature, and anthropology, and she studied dance in Ghana. It wasn't long before it became clear to her that dance is poetry, and poetry is dance. The realization opened infinite possibilities for her artistic expression.

Inspiration arrives in unexpected forms as Rosemarie interprets her artistic journey with her young adult son, who navigates life with nonverbal Autism. She credits his life with recasting her worldview and broadening her outlook. His nonverbal nature was another gift that reminded Rosemarie of the power of movement, poetry, and the healing properties of words. Rosemarie became the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix, Arizona, in 2016. She founded, curated, and hosted First Friday Poetry on Roosevelt Row during this time. She books groups of poets monthly, such as small presses, literary magazines, classes, poetry non-profits, readers that read to a theme, etc. Her events infuse the three-hour Phoenix First Friday Art Walk event with poetry, art, and awareness of form.

On days she's not teaching in person, Rosemarie works from her home office in Scottsdale, Arizona. She maintains an active schedule at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus, teaching Women's Literature, Medical Humanities, Creative Ethnography, and Journal Creation courses. Rosemarie also teaches classes and workshops at ASU's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She presents talks on the healing power of poetry to art organizations, community colleges, libraries, and schools upon request. Rosemarie is the founding editor of Rinky Dink Press (publisher of micro poetry in micro zine form) and The Revolution (Relaunch), a weekly women’s rights newspaper founded originally by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in 1868.

Poetry travels well, according to Rosemarie, “I realized writing could grow with me, regardless of the stage of life, I never run out of words. It can be produced in spaces of all sizes and comes in all sizes. You can take it with you everywhere."  She says, "Poetry is a ubiquitous container because it is a vessel for fiction and nonfiction and everything in between."  Rosemarie states, "Most of what I teach, write, facilitate, edit, and lecture about is related to medical humanism. As a poet, I tend to translate medical trauma and disability into poetry. However, my passion is fieldwork in the form of facilitating narrative/poetic medicine workshops for medically vulnerable populations. We work with medical students, providers, and vulnerable populations, using poetry as a portal to self-care and healing.”

Dr. Rosemarie Dombrowski is the author of three poetry collections: The Book of Emergencies, The Philosophy of Unclean Things, and The Cleavage Planes of Southwest Minerals (A Love Story), and the forthcoming Emily’s Advice to Girls in the New Millennium. Through a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, Rosemarie founded Revionsary Arts, a non-profit that facilitates therapeutic poetry workshops in the Phoenix metropolitan area. "The dominant theory behind poetic therapy is that when we recast that incident, trauma, and hurt in our story, we can take back a little bit of power. Instead of allowing a diagnosis or a death to dominate our lives, we can say, 'In this space today, I'm going to rewrite my story.'" As a result, Rosemarie developed a class that combines the medical and poetic worlds called Poetry and Medicine.  

In addition to being the founding editor of Rinky Dink Press and the founding director of Revisionary Arts, she is the founding editor of ISSUED, a journal for and about veterans at Arizona State University, and the faculty editor of Grey Matter, the medical poetry journal of the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. Today, along with all the gifts she has given others, Rosemarie is moving into spaces involving neuroscience, mindfulness, and healing. "I work with veterans and dementia patients, both experiences of my own family. I'm with the people I'm supposed to be with, and my heart is full."


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