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Conversations about absence and presence: Re-membering a loved partner in poetic form

A key concern for therapists is how therapeutic change occurs, and what particular elements of therapy lead towards change. This project investigated how one approach in narrative therapy—rescued speech poetry—might enhance another therapeutic approach, re-membering conversations. Re-membering conversations nurture connections between a bereaved person and a loved person who has died. These conversations actively weave the stories of the lost loved one back into the life of the bereaved person, so that the loved one’s values and legacies continue to resound. This research explored how a literary approach—rescued speech poetry—potentially enhanced the nearness and contribution of a loved one, through capturing stories in a poetic form. The study engaged eight participants, all of whom had lost a spouse or partner to death at least two years prior to their participation. Participants were invited into two counselling-like, research-focused conversations. The first conversation was a re-membering conversation which explored the ongoing contribution of the lost loved partner. Then, for each participant, I composed a folio of rescued speech and dialogical poems from their speaking, which they received in the post. In a second research conversation, I invited each participant to reflect on the effect of the poems in enhancing their re-membering. The poems produced for this research project, the Story bridges collection, appear in the preface in the electronic version of this thesis, and as a separate booklet in the bound version. The results chapters are presented in three distinct folds of six paired chapters. In a textual fold, the therapeutic and literary actions embedded in the poems are unfolded to gain a sense of how the poems sought to create effects. A case is made for the inclusion of a form of dialogical poetry alongside rescued speech poetry. In this dialogical poetry, the therapist’s responses to a participant’s re-membering story are intentionally interleaved with the story itself. In a dialogical fold, participant responses to the poetry folios—both the rescued speech and dialogical poems—are composed as poetic re-presentation. This approach displays participants’ responses to the folios, focusing on both the outcome of the therapy poems and the processes by which they created their effects. The participants reported that the poetry folios increased the resonance of the loved one in their lives. This resonance was produced not only by the poems as individual actors, but also through the particular processes of the research engagement. The research structure of multiple tellings—a first telling as a re-membering conversation, a second telling as a poem, a third telling as a reflective conversation—intensified the evocative metaphors of re-membering within participants’ talk, increasing the resonance with the loved one. Finally, in the philosophical fold, the work of the poems for re-membering is viewed through Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of lines of flight. This philosophical lens reflexively highlights my work as a poet-therapist in re-creating the lines of movement towards the loved one, as seen in both the individual poems and the folios. This study found that the rescued speech and dialogical poems—as thera-poetic actions within broader dialogical processes—work through resonance. The poems sharpened the re-membering stories, honing them. In reading the poemed stories, the bereaved participant experienced the loved one as being illuminated again. Resonance occurred not only between the bereaved participant and the loved one, but between the participant and their extended family and friends who read the poems, the participant and myself as researcher, and the participant and their prior selves. The poetry strongly enhanced the work of re-membering practices by multiplying the impact of a re-membering conversation so that it rippled out in wider circles. In the field of narrative therapy, this thesis makes a contribution by robustly conceptualising rescued speech poetry and demonstrating its effectiveness through the inclusion of participant responses. This thesis promotes the literary within rescued speech poetry, and seeks to inspire other practitioners in their creative practices of therapy.
Type of thesis
Penwarden, S. (2018). Conversations about absence and presence: Re-membering a loved partner in poetic form (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12102
The University of Waikato
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