For individuals otherwise unable to express their feelings, "poetic" inquiry was giving them access to words.
Using metaphor as an instrument of metacognitive introspection and productive dialogue:
To avoid triggering rumination, I began experimenting with modifications to the process. I found that when metaphoric description was preceded by pre-verbal, sensory-metaphoric perception, we got original, non-deliberate self-expression that rarely swung off into negative, circular grooves. Codifying the technique meant I could teach others to lead poet/participants along a cognitively intuitive, non-associative thinking track.
At points where they might have otherwise veered off the road, our poets now had guardrails in the form of definitional (as opposed to interpretive) commentary.
While looking inward and creating poetry that expressed feelings, we were also commenting on the poetry itself, which moved and inspired us, poets and listeners alike.
We all had something to say. Again, counterintuitively, this put us at risk. Listeners and poets wanted to analyse images, interpret and/or explain them, and offer stories of their own. The poets could find themselves alone, with heart in hand, while others mused about their own related feelings, or told the poet what they believed his or her poem was about.
It became clear that, much as we needed to access feelings in a certain way at the outset of the mirroring process, we would also have to think and talk about the written expression in a certain way, in order to keep poets from having their feelings ignored, misinterpreted, or boxed in by rational analysis. Rather than letting the focus of discussion shift from the text itself to the poet and/or to consideration of the text in relation to personal data and difficulty, I began teaching what I came to call "definitional commentary".
In this new approach to the close reading of our texts, we looked at them without referring back to the poet. We defined words and terms as if we had dictionaries on our laps, and talked objectively about images, phrases and their literary qualities, rather than making personal associations. This allowed each of us to remain in the moment, together in the reflective space we were sharing, without retreating into the relative isolation of our subjective corners.
This new, “definitional” approach to commentary mitigated the risk of reversion to default, subjective, negative-thinking tendencies during the discussion phase of the process.
SAFE: Secure Affect Framing, Expression and Regulation