A man typing his feelings into poetry allowing him to communicate his feelings

Poetry and Prostate Cancer

I first started writing poetry in a college creative writing class in 1968. I was nineteen, a sophomore and running the half mile and mile for the track team. I was also taking my first exploratory steps into the counterculture lifestyle that had started on the West coast a couple of years earlier and had finally infiltrated the rural town in Pennsylvania where I was studying English literature.

I'm inspired by discovering universal truths

A lot has changed over the last fifty-two years, but one thing has remained constant: I’ve continued to pick up a pen or pencil, pound on a typewriter or “word process” on a computer, to capture my experience and my view of the world in well-chosen words and images, sometimes economically (haiku) and sometimes epically (long narrative poems), but always with the intention of getting at some kind of truth, some kind of art that will communicate with others at an emotional level, that will shed some light on our shared humanity.

Exploring our mortality through poetry

I’ve written poems about just about everything: love, baseball, my dog, hexagons, music, family, war, social unrest, the cosmos, spirituality, nature, travel, hanging Christmas lights, etc. But one theme has crept into my poems over the last ten years and shows no sign of departing willingly: mortality. First coronary artery disease and an eventual heart attack, then prostate cancer, and between that diagnosis and surgery, severe degenerative cervical spine disease that was compromising my spinal cord.

But here’s the thing. My poems that include direct or indirect reference to mortality aren’t, well, morbid. They’re reflective, humorous, irreverent, often filled with gratitude. Here’s a poem I wrote that’s included in my collection, True Stories from My Past, Volume 2, published in 2015.


What my dog doesn’t know won’t hurt her,
like her upcoming rabies shot,
or eviction of the fat tick
residing in the thick fur near her ear.
What I know won’t hurt me either,
if I choose not to let it.
Like the next reminder of mortality
residing in the shadows of the near future,
Or, let’s face it, mortality itself,
biding its time out there somewhere,
hanging around like God whistling
while waiting to create the universe.
So the good news for both of us,
my dog and me, is that
neither her ignorance nor my knowledge
diminishes our love for each other.

At least love is what I call it.
Who knows what she calls it.
But not knowing won’t hurt us,
will it?

A timeless expression of myself

I have no talent for drawing or painting, my musical skills are limited. Poetry is the one art that’s organic for me. Poems come calling, and the next thing I know I’m at the computer and it’s as if my mind and my fingers are directed by some power beyond myself. It is the most wonderful feeling to start writing, maybe with some idea of where I’m going, but ending someplace totally unexpected and thrilling. It’s literally a timeless experience.

I haven’t written a poem specifically about prostate cancer, but writing poems has helped me through my experience with prostate cancer and the other health issues I mentioned earlier. I don’t think of writing poems as therapy, but writing them is unintentionally therapeutic. And to share them with others who find value in them, even if it’s just a feeling they get, doubles the pleasure I get from writing them.

Written reflections on my heart attack

Here’s the last stanza from a poem I wrote, “Heart Felt,” after the angioplasty that followed my heart attack:

Days later, as you sit and stare,
Life gives you the small puncture wound
On the underside of your wrist
The purple bruises from the blood
Pooled beneath your hand’s thin skin
An alien hand that has somehow
Aged and weathered like your father’s,
The hand you remember from years ago
As he lay still and silent in his hospital bed
His heart having surrendered
While yours beat strong and fast.

Now it's your turn...

If you’re looking for a way to navigate the emotions and the physical discomfort of a serious medical condition, try writing a poem: about anything. Put a few words on paper. Then a few more. Find out where they’ll take you.

Are you an artist, or does art inspire you? Like Will, tell us how you use art to express yourself and share your work with the community in ProstateCancer.net's forum dedicated to creative expression.

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