For Phoenix poet Rosemarie Dombrowski, poetry is therapeutic. “I use poetry as a portal for processing my trauma, distilling stories into their essential details, and healing.” She is a single parent and primary caregiver to her adult son who has nonverbal autism and other disabilities. She teaches courses on women’s literature, medical poetry, and editing at ASU Downtown Phoenix. As a literary advocate she’s launched many community-based projects, and in 2017 was selected as the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix. She created a nonprofit called Revisionary Arts in 2020 that provides therapeutic poetry workshops for vulnerable populations.
Rosemarie feels that these workshops help participants understand and express their emotions and experiences. “Poetry can facilitate the processing of trauma, grief, illness, stress, etc., which can lead to individual and collective healing.” The workshop leaders share poems that inspire participants to open up in their own writing. “I like to say that we use the art of divination to select the right poems for the population we’re working with, poems in which they’ll recognize themselves, maybe find a community of sufferers. Poems that encourage/incite them to reflect on their past and present, their mental, spiritual, and physical realities. The poem does the work, and it’s a wondrous thing to witness.”
From there attendees craft their own poems. “The page doesn’t judge. It’ll never be shocked by a confession or disclosure. And once we’ve articulated our suffering outside of our heads, we have the ability to reread it from a new perspective, reflect on it, analyze it, (truly) see it. Purging even a thin layer of trauma gets us a little closer to the source. This is really the essence of poetry therapy: the poem is both a container for our suffering as well as a portal to a deeper understanding.”
Compared to other genres, Rosemarie finds that poetry has a unique ability to get to the heart of the matter. “It’s always about the brilliance in the brevity. The depths that a poem can explore in 20 lines. Like any form of writing, poetry is a means of articulating our experiences, but unlike other genres, poetry requires us to focus on the most critical elements of our story. You can’t grapple with a memoir or a novel or even a short story in the space of a 60-minute class/workshop/session, but you can cover the landscape of a poem, even connect it meaningfully to your life, even begin more deeply exploring some aspect of your life.”
Rosemarie’s experiences as Poet Laureate of Phoenix were both challenging and rewarding. “I thought I was already pretty invested/embedded in the community, hosting a lot of public events, but the requests for me to speak (and read) really ratcheted up quickly! Some of the most nerve-wracking ones — which were also some of the greatest honors — were the poems I was asked to write and perform for civic and political events. It was a pressurized whirlwind and something I wasn’t exactly prepared for, but it certainly catapulted poetry into visible spaces in the community, and it made many new things possible for me, so I have nothing but gratitude (and a lot of gray hairs)!”
Besides her workshops and teaching, Rosemarie is the faculty editor of Grey Matter, the school’s medical poetry journal, and Write On Downtown, an arts and culture journal. She’s published three collections of poems and is founding editor of rinky dink press, which publishes micro-poetry. The following poems reflect Rosemarie’s talent for uncovering and articulating the core of traumatic experiences.
Lately Rosemarie has been working as a poetry and yoga therapist at the Maricopa Reentry Center, a facility for formerly incarcerated men who are dealing with addiction. “It’s been the greatest gift and biggest challenge of my life thus far.” She continues to find fulfillment in sharing her work and guiding others to do the same. “I’m most comfortable in medical spaces, writing medical/disability poetry, plumbing my own trauma, or working with vulnerable populations. That’s who I am as a human, so it makes sense that that’s who I’d be as a poet.”
The windows are portals
into another world.
The ice blankets the freeway
like the layers of bloody linens
they strip from my bed.
The bathroom light
is a beacon for a ship
that can’t make it to harbor.
They bring me bacon
that I refuse to eat.
I realize there’s nothing here
to recognize—not the face
wrapped in pinstripes,
not even the one in the mirror.
Their eyes look like antiseptic.
Their voices sound like
my swollen womb,
the taste of rot
and no toothpaste.
I am a stuck pig,
a bleeding bitch,
an unfit mother already.
The wheelchair in the bathroom
is like the feeling you get
when you’re clinging to the precipice.
Once, the Grand Canyon
almost swallowed me whole.
They say that the hole in his heart
is the size of a dime.
The surgeon is speaking in hands —
no contact … no running … no longdistance
anything for life.
I wonder who I will become
without my legs.
Today, I am the beeping monitor,
the churning machine
that’s attached to my breasts.
I see the face of sin in NICU window.
I pray to the saint of perpetual lactation,
the wide-eyed mother of despair.
Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer. email@example.com.