I, metaphor

An emotional hologram

This was the last piece of the puzzle, and the beginning of the first full codification of what would become "Metaphoric Affect Processing". Going forward, the more the process was refined, the more reliably my poets derived the benefits I had hoped for and was now coming to expect. 

The operator was the scribe, taking down exact words in dictation as poets answered the "Sense-Metaphor Questionnaire" of metaphor-based queries. 

Together, we recited their "automatic" poems. We let the words - even the heaviest ones - stay lightly in the air. We paused before these poetic reflections the way you'd pause in a museum before a sculpture. Their poems were emotional holograms, I'd tell them, and their own feelings were now externalized and suspended like art in the space between us, fixed, such that we could walk around them. With my hand I'd draw a big horizontal circle in the air in front of me, my fingers moving slightly to represent a delicate quality of listening and observing.

Together, my poets and I began to look closely and curiously, marveling at the many facets of a moment, free to step back to a safe distance whenever we wished. 

Co-creating, metaforicaMENTE

At first I used the acronym MIND, metacognitive introspection and non-analytical dialogue, to capture what we were doing. In Italian, the language we worked in, we'd say we were speaking metaforicaMENTE (metaphorically), where MENTE stood for the metaphoric exploration, naming and transformation of emotion. 

I developed an in-hospital Progetto Patient Poeti, and began describing what we were doing and what was happening as Metaphoric Affect Processing (which title is accurate and complete, but perhaps unfairly clinical). I began studying, gathering anecdotal data, and then formally researching, in-hospital, the effects of metaphor-mirroring, and officially registering the terms I was coining.

From my perspective, our gains have been remarkable: through metaphor-based interviewing we're getting perception, description, transcription and transformation of complex emotion all in one artful self-report. The work is profoundly relational, involves both patients and staff, and offers a blueprint for easily replicable and intrinsically empathic communication, which supports wellbeing and plants signposts toward problem-solving.

A truly safe space in the poetic present

In the crowded halls of Italian public health care, my poets and I have learned how to reliably and quickly create a space in which one's emotional self-reflections can emerge (in free verse, no less, even for non-poets) without subversion by self-expression which may be self-defeating or potentially self-destructive. 

The process feels almost effortless for the poets. Most importantly, our metaphor-based conversations leave them feeling better - lighter, clearer, more ordered in their thoughts. 

Poets are often moved and surprised by their own words. Operators (the scribes) don't need a background in psychology to administer the creative questionnaire (the SMQ), and don't need anything beyond their empathy and intuition to "process" it, as there is no evaluation, analysis or decoding involved. To maximise benefits, participants need only to recite their poetic self-reports, or hear them read out loud. 

Regardless of whether they're hospital patients or hospital staff, my poets leave our fanciful conversations with more energy and optimism than they enter with, and so do I. 

"Io, metafora," is how we begin. 

"I, metaphor..."

And in marvelously mixed and moving metaphors, magic - in place of hopelessness - appears between the lines.

Melissa Johnson  

Genoa, Italy  2017