Developed by poet Ronna Bloom, the Poet in Community program aims to develop the creative writing interests of students at U of T. Bloom has most recently appeared at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto to present the release of The More—her latest publication drawing from her experiences in hospital wards.
The PIC program was created in 2007 with the aid of U of T’s Multi-Faith Centre, Hart House Theatre, Accessibility Centre, and among others. Currently occupying the position of Poet in Community is Bloom herself. Bloom explains that the instruction received in the program is not formally structured like a university lecture. She states that there is no formal classroom, teacher, or boss. Learning takes place without any evaluation through casual conversations.
“The idea was to offer students a way to reflect on the parts of themselves and their experiences that didn’t fit into the silos of academics or any kind of strict identity,” said Bloom. She further emphasizes that the program allows students to express their creative writing interests regardless of their academic programs: “Like someone who is a chemistry student who is also a comic book fan who struggles with commuting from home. Allow[ing] all the parts [of this student] to emerge, in writing, with the support of poetry, in an environment without grades or evaluation.”
For Bloom, the goal when teaching is to allow students to share their works in such a way that the “poetry speaks to them.”
Besides leading writing workshops for PIC, Bloom has also worked as the Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital and Sinai Health System. She has also worked as a psychotherapist. Drawing from these experiences, Bloom crafted The More. At first, while on an airplane, Bloom wrote an essay called “Walking the Hospital,” which became the central piece of the book.
“I didn’t know that this book would be about health, care, mortality, meditation, vulnerability, compassion, loss, subversion, and spontaneity until it began to coalesce,” said Bloom, referring to how “Walking the Hospital” inspired a slew of similar works now published in The More. Bloom has read excerpts from The More at the International Festival of Authors in front of a panel featuring Ann Michaels, Julia Cameron Gray, and Meaghan Strimas.
One poem in the poetry collection, titled “Salve,” is fixated on the usage of the word in different languages.
Bloom further explained: “I realized the word [salve] had these two meanings and resonances—the balm in English, the hello in Italian and the echo of being welcomed as a soothing thing. Being “helloed.” And rough necessary edge of the word ‘salvage.’”
In regard to the importance of mental health as a theme in her work, Bloom states that it is simply not enough to be aware of mental health. What matters more importantly, according to Bloom, is the exploration of the human traits of vulnerability, insatiability, and connectedness to one another.
“I want to pay attention to my every day experiences with others and in my writing,” she said.
On March 29, Bloom will be competing in Poetry NOW: 9th Annual Battle of the Bards among 19 other contestants.