Trent Center, Duke University
HAND-Health Arts Network at Duke
Life Lines Conference: May 21-23 2010

A Letter of Welcome from the Conference Committee

When Archibald MacLeish told us that “A poem should not mean/But be” he meant, I suppose, not that poems should have no single meaning but have many meanings, depending as they do on what the listener brings to the poem. The idea that poems have one or many (or no) meanings has fascinated devotees of poetry and professors of philosophy, but it seems to us less interesting than the effect that poetry has on its audience. We could paraphrase MacLeish to say that “A poem should not mean/But do.” This seems entirely compatible with the etymology of poetry, coming as it does from the Greek word meaning to make.

And so the idea behind this symposium: to bring together a group of people interested in and using poetry in the helping professions (health care, teaching, social work). Mortimer Adler, borrowing from Aristotle, pointed out that healing, farming and teaching were three “co-operative arts,” meaning thereby that they required the cooperation of another living thing (patients, plants or pupils) if the artist were to carry out his or her artistic function. We therefore cobbled together this conference aimed at reviewing and illuminating the ways in which several co-operative artists are using poetry in their daily work with others.

We hope that you will come and participate with us. We have purposefully set aside one-half of each session for dialogue, hoping that all who attend will share their insights and experience with their colleagues. We are honored to have with us both David Whyte and Jane Hirshfield who will address us in formal lectures. We intend this meeting to provide a rich harvest for anyone in the helping professions who is interested in poems and poetry and the practicalities of the poetic craft.

Frank Neelon, MD
For the Conference Planning Committee

Sponsored by Duke Medicine
©2009 Duke University