Poetry and Trauma Recovery


In class the other day, Evan mentioned the intersection between politics and art, and Oliver and Mary mentioned the intersection of music and poetry. This got me thinking about the inherent healing power of the arts. I started thinking about the outcome of intersecting two distinct disciplines like politics and art—and how, many people view poetry as a way of writing about something in a “fluffy” or “softer” way—but it’s super interesting to me that the opposite is usually true. I like to think that what we hear in poetry is always more universally accessible because there is room to stretch across both imagination and interpretation.

But, I digress. I’m super interested in how poetry functions to highlight larger issues that may be political or sociological in nature; just as I am about the intersection of psychology or medicine to art and creative expression, specifically poetry.  Last class, we discussed which books we will be reviewing, and I didn’t have one chosen at the time. After much thought, and a burst of analytical thought sparked by my peers,  I’ve decided to include in my post a book I am leaning towards using for the book review. It is a collection of poetry (self-called a ‘poetic memoir’) that captures a lifetime of recovering memories erased by traumatic events, and is very self-reflective in nature.

The book is called “Overexposed: A Poetic Memoir,” written by Terri Muuss. Muuss is a poet from Long Island who is also a school social worker, inspirational speaker, and actor. I discovered Terri unintentionally—my best friend back home and I had gone to a poetry reading of Jeanann Verlee at a local bar in Patchogue. Terri was one of the performers—although she does not call herself a slam poet, many of her poems she acts out, which I found to be very animated and all the more poignant and emotional for the content of her poems. One of her poems, a litany called “If” describes all the ways we try to find a way out of our sadness or to avoid problems; for her personally, they are all the ways she tried to forget her trauma—her life.  After the performances and readings, my friend and I approached Terri after the show for some words of gratitude and appreciation, and I was struck by how HAPPY she was. Seriously. She had such a full, bright smile and it was entirely contagious, and she gave the biggest hug to both of us. I bought her book here, and met her husband, Matt Pasca, who is also a published poet.

Here is the book trailer that she released prior to the publication of her memoir. The video gives a great insight into the content of the book and also touches on how it was an act of healing and recovering:

Since this poetry reading I have kept in contact with Terri, who I like to refer to as one of my writing inspirations, or, rather, my powerful female friends that I want to be just like, in some aspect, one day. Ok whatever. Well, Terri and her husband would invite me to poetry events on Long Island all the time, so I got to see both of them perform many more times, met her children, and came to understand her story and history all the more.

Terri is an incest survivor, having lived a childhood where her own father was responsible for her first traumatic event. When she was an adolescent, Terri was raped four times. She battled addiction and alcoholism, depression, suicidal tendencies, and more. Knowing all of this and having read her memoir, and seeing where she is now, and especially how happy she is—it’s truly inspiring.

Terri Muuss and I have talked many times about the importance of art and therapy. Having undergone intensive therapy and treatment throughout her life, she can attest to the power of writing to open doors within our minds and to uncover a piece of information or memory that maybe we can’t find the words to express in regular therapy. Once we uncover these little pieces, we can start to talk about them out loud—facilitating the healing process.

I’m very interested in the connection between poetry and trauma recovery. Often times, distance is needed in order to write about something you have experienced; I feel it is this very distance that also makes it near impossible to retrieve memory about the experience, especially if it was a traumatic one.  But even free writing will resurface some things, not dependent on time or distance. I’m sure there are many more advantages of writing in relation to recovering from trauma.

I hope to learn more about this when I re-read Terri Muuss’s poetic memoir.

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