The power of poetry

5 March 2019

Sarah Penwarden web
Dr Sarah Penwarden (right) with Emeritus Professor Noeline Alcorn and Faculty Dean Professor Don Klinger.

A University of Waikato student has won an award for her research into the use of rescued speech poetry with people whose loved partners had died.

Auckland-based Dr Sarah Penwarden is a practising narrative therapist with a Master of Counselling from Waikato and recently she was awarded the Emeritus Professor Noeline Alcorn Doctoral Award for her PhD research from the University of Waikato. The award has a value of up to $2000.

In her doctoral research, Dr Penwarden had conversations with eight participants where she invited them to tell of how they were aware of the ongoing contribution of the deceased loved one to their lives.

“The first part of the process was to listen carefully as I recorded their words; from an aesthetic perspective, to appreciate the beauty and richness of their words as they recalled memories of loved ones and their own emotions at the time, and then from a therapeutic perspective to capture the intensity of what they were telling me.”

Dr Penwarden would then craft poems from these stories, paring down the words, but presenting them exactly as they were said in chronological order. “I was after talk that sings, taking those notes of loss and shifting them towards hope,” she says.

She wrote a series of eight or nine poems for each person, choosing what she determined to be the best poetry style to fit the words, and posted the poems to each person in a folio. Then she met the participants again, asking them to reflect on what the poems did for their memory of that person.

The participants found the poetry affirming of their memory of and love toward their lost partners. One participant found the poetry anchored the positive memories of her deceased partner. Other participants shared the poetry with their extended family, with the children of the deceased person who came to know the person again through the poetry.

Dr Penwarden works part-time as a therapist, using rescued speech poetry with her clients when appropriate. She also works part-time as a counsellor-educator at an Auckland private tertiary institution. She is keen to start a therapy group in Auckland for people grieving loved ones, which will include opportunities for the group members to write poetry.

She was one of six University of Waikato Faculty of Education scholars to be presented with study awards last month. The others were:

Ian McLaren Memorial Scholarship – Tayla-Jay Dearlove (Bachelor of Teaching)
Peter Freyberg Memorial Scholarship – Julie Hest (PhD) and Samantha Mortimer (Doctor of Education)
Judith McGee Memorial Prize – Laura Anderson (GradDipTchg Primary) and Janelle Schumacher (GradDipTchg Primary)

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