Sunday, July 31, 2005

At the Hospital

I am working on The Diaries and found the actual start date of one of my Mother poems, February 21, 1991. (I still don't know if I should take out the father line). Thanks to Barbara for reminding me I wrote it:


I lock myself inside the space of poem
just as I did the bathroom when I was three.
Mother and father yell
and beg and pound for me to come out,
but I am steadfast. I watch the pee
run over my thighs
and into the space behind my knees
and down the backs of my legs
until the tops of my socks are sopping wet
and my feet are sloshy in my shoes.
My brother and sister demand
news of our mother's condition -
our father is long-time dead -
as my pen scribbles sounds of ink
along the edges of my paper
until words come together on the page.
I look from my shoes to the quivering door
as firemen meander through the mind of dream
and doctors continue on -
even after the lock is broken.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

The poem first appeared in SHESPEAKS: Seattle Women's Caucus for Art Newsletter, winter 1992 and was reprinted in The Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Review (Vancouver Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Society), vol. 4, no 1, winter 1993.

posted to Psychoanalytic Diaries, July 31, 2005

Friday, July 29, 2005

What Robert Frost Poem Are you?

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost

And therefore, Quizilla says:

You know where you're going, and you know how to
get there. You set goals in life, and you're
determined to meet them. But you know how to
make the most of your time, and in little
things, you take lots of enjoyment. Stop by
those snowy woods every once in a while to take
a break, and don't worry- you'll make those
miles before you sleep.

What Robert Frost poem are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

This was the first poem I memorized and recited in college English 101, Towson State Teachers College, Towson, Md., 1961. Thanks to Quizilla for reminding me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Scribbling Women

America is now wholly given over
to a d --- d mob of scribbling women,
and I should have no chance of success
while the public taste is occupied
with their trash --
and should be ashamed if I did

-Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1855

Author of The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of The Seven Gables (1851), and other works. He lived from 1804 to 1864 and was a contemporary of such scribbling women as transcendentalist Margaret Fuller (1810 - 1850), abolitionist Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880), Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned Uncle Tom's Cabin , and Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Take a listen ...

Friday, July 22, 2005

from Voices in Wartime

It should break your heart to kill

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more. ― ancient Arabic proverb.

It should break your heart to kill.
It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you out in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.
It should never be so easy as this.

― Brian Turner (returned Iraq war veteran and poet, featured in the Voices in Wartime Anthology)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

From A Boy On A Dreambed

The Summer 2005 issue of Poetry Bay is up and I'm pleased to report that my poem, From A Boy On A Dreambed, is included.

Happy Writing,


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Un-hiding the hidden

Thank you all for your responses to my psychoanalytic diaries. Making the decision to place them on-line was not an easy one, as you can well imagine. I had planned a manuscript summing up each year, including the month with the Vacation Analyst (that first year) and the six months with the Clean-up Analyst, as I call him, in the last year. But a summation manuscript is not the same thing as a diary; and since that’s the writing form I used during the analysis, for me it is the most authentic. Now the problem is time, of course.

There are thousands of entries, handwritten and typed. Some are on old DOS! disks, and I must pick and choose what to transcribe. But time’s moving and I knew I needed to get this done before old(er) age takes over - and especially since my husband is frail and I wanted to see us there in those old pages; so this summer I took the project on.

Whatever gets done will be it - though I'll work past summer; the rest I’ll donate to the university archives and hope other analysands will do the same with their analytic notes. One can stipulate “not to be opened for 50 years” if necessary and they can always be sanitized (names and places inked out).

Thanks again for your much appreciated support. It's good to un-hide what's been hidden, to get it out from underneath the desk or off an old floppy or out of the file cabinet. You've helped make my job easier. L'Chaim, to life! Esther

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Reflections on Poetry Therapy

A number of people have asked me how I feel about Poetry Therapy and use of the word therapist, especially when employed by teachers and writers who are unlicensed as therapists. In this regard, I share with you an article I sent to the National Association of Poetry Therapy upon my return from its Spring conference:

Reflections on Poetry Therapy: After the St. Louis Conference
May 4 – 8, 2005


Esther Altshul Helfgott, Ph.D., History
University of Washington

My experience at the poetry conference was mixed; on the one hand, I made friends and attended workshops that I could not have encountered elsewhere. Perie Longo and Phyllis Klein’s Poetic Conversation was stunning for its creation of intimacy in a large setting. Sherry Reiter’s and Barbara’s Bethea’s expertise in building community and hope through poetic conscience was stellar; and, for the second year in a row, Geri Chavis’ experiential peer group led me to insights I would be hard-pressed to find outside the Poetry Therapy community. As a teacher, writer and healing arts facilitator, however, I am, after this conference, in even stronger disagreement with NAPT’s training philosophy than I was before I attended.

From the beginning of my two-year association with NAPT (National Association of Poetry Therapy), I have been troubled by its use of the word therapist in the context of the CPT (certified poetry therapist). The only differentiation between the two tracks is defined by hours, 975 for the RPT (registered poetry therapist), a licensed clinician, and 440 for the CPT, one who enters into the program via the Humanities—as an educator or writer, without a clinician’s background or degree. One wonders, then, why NAPT is using the word therapist to define its healing arts trainees.

Therapy is not just a word, as a CPT mentioned to me during the conference. It holds weights and measures. As our keynote poet, Greg Orr, wrote in his memoir Blessing, “Words have the power to reveal what is hidden.” (p.4) We all know this, whether clinician or non-clinician. So I ask: What is hidden in NAPT that prevents the development of a training track that would allow educators, poets or writing group facilitators, who have no intention of becoming licensed therapists, access to training without the weight of the word therapist around their necks?

A personal development group is not a therapy group, whether modified by Kleinian, poetry or dance. Just because healing occurs in a group or individual does not mean the healing is defined by therapy, though it may indeed be therapeutic.

It is my feeling that NAPT is a young organization and has not yet found itself. It is not in touch with its theoretical or philosophical underpinnings, its inherent belief systems, to the extent that it should be inviting writers and educators to train without really knowing what to do with them.

The word therapy is not being used carefully, not with full respect for its inherent meanings, its context and aliveness. As such, I am suspending my training towards certification. If NAPT were to develop a program for developmental group facilitators, I would participate with a sense of honor. At this point, when I feel strongly that it is unethical for an organization to certify trainees to become unlicensed therapists, I can not.

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues formally during the conference, instead of tuning into conversations in hallways, coffee shops and airports. Unfortunately, the conference setting did not provide space for trainee concerns. I would hope that next year more processing and discussion space will be made for all activities. Namaste.

Esther Altshul Helfgott writes on psychoanalysis, is a writing coach, and facilitates writing groups for women at Cancer Lifeline, Seattle, WA.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

make a place for youself

We'll be discussing and writing from the following poem in the Cancer Lifeline groups next week:

How To Be a Poet by Wendell Berry
to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

- Wendell Berry

How To Be a Poet by Wendell Berry from Given New Poems, © Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C. Reprinted FROM WRITER'S ALMANAC

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Monday, July 11, 2005

Here by Grace Paley

In today's first meeting of the Monday writing group, I used Grace Paley's Here as a trigger for writing and discussion:

Here by Grace Paley

Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.

copyrightGrace Paley

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Your muse is Calliope, the Fair Voiced, Chief muse
and the muse of Epic Poetry. Her symbol is the
writing tablet. I wonder if you'll end up as
the next Tolkein...?

I think I'll end up as me...

Which of the Nine Muses is your muse?
brought to you by Quizilla


Friday, July 08, 2005


me and the boys

Daughter's foot

Butchy and Bernard

Scott & Abe - July 8, 2005 - home for vacation

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Me and Abe, 1989

Choices by Gallagher

In today's first meeting of the Thurs writing group at Cancer Lifeline, I used Tess Gallagher's Choices as a trigger for writing and discussion:

Choices by Tess Gallagher

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, a nest is clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

© Tess Gallagher

Monday, July 04, 2005

Writing as Mother

Why did I return to the diaries at just this time – when I haven’t revisited myself in that place of other since I wrote them? The Friday before I made the decision to publish the diaries on-line, Abe had gone to the doctor. The prognosis was not good and I was living each minute as if I could lose him this second, now. I didn’t realize at the time how frantic I was, but did the only thing I know to do during periods of chaos and stress – put myself inside a page.

This time I did not write, not frantically anyway. I went to the year the analysis began, 1990. I wanted to find me and Abe there, and though we were married nine years prior, I went to the analytic diary to remember who we were in relation to that period, to see what I could see of us, who we have been throughout our twenty-four years together; what I’m finding is good because it helps me understand how we’ve lived our lives together, why and how we made it through, or didn’t, and then did again.

I had been blocking something else too: I started the analysis, after eleven years of psychoanalytic therapy with the same man I was to do the analysis with, the month after my son was hit by a car. That was more than I could tolerate. He was in Harborview for two weeks and at home for another two weeks, then back to school on crutches for the next six months. But I remained on crutches and, if not for the writing, would be there still; for it is the writing that helps me care for others, and it is the writing that nurtures and cares for me.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott