poetry therapy

When Sunflowers Speak Patrick Flanigan Book Cover

Flanigan, Patrick W. and David McQueen. When Sunflowers Speak: An Invitation to Contemplation. Pacific Grove, CA: Pacific Grove Publishing, 2005. Illustrations by Christine Crozier. Review by Carol Katz

The yellow, brown and green petals of a sunflower on the front cover immediately catch our eye. We need to open this book to discover what is inside. Its unusual length and width make it stand out on a bookshelf. What a delightful surprise awaits us when we see handwritten poems that are illustrated with photographs by David McQueen and delicate line drawings by the accomplished artist, Christine Crozier.

Garden Gate Picture Patrick Flanigan is a physician and writer, born in 1943 in northern Indiana. He gained his insights into the spiritual aspects of life and death when he worked as a haematologist and oncologist. David McQueen is a nurse and photographer, born in 1953 in South Carolina. He acquired his first camera in 1973 and recently became a professional photographer. Christine Crozier is a professional artist who grew up in northern California. She paints from nature, focusing on the flora and fauna in landscapes.

Bridge by the Ocean Picture The author takes us on a journey of self-discovery by inviting us to discover and contemplate the beauty of nature. Like Bob Jacob's book, Perspectives: Hospice Poems, the themes throughout When Sunflowers Speak are celebration, struggle, healing and finally acceptance. But love is the thread that weaves these themes together throughout both books.

“ Several of Flanigan's poems appeared in ONCOLOGY TIMES, Dec. 10, 2005. In this article, Poetry by Cancer Caregivers, the editor writes: “The world of poetry is a means of expression and a source of comfort for many who care for cancer patients.” Bob Jacob expresses this sentiment regarding caregivers and poetry. The first poem in When Sunflowers Speak is illustrated with a greyish door surrounded by flowers and trees in bloom. It reminds me of a secret garden, an inner sanctuary where I can let my thoughts wander. For instance in To Write a Poem (p.1):

You cannot walk into a garden and command a poem to flow from your pen… Your task is to be there, awake, seeing, listening, open to the message not yet written on the page.

The author give life to inanimate objects. For example in Driftwood (p. 6):

The trees above whisper about the skeleton below. Some raise their boughs To heaven in fear and trembling.

At first, the poems seem more upbeat than those in Jacob's book. However, in reading further, we realize that Flanigan is conveying the same passion, love and caring as Jacob. But he says it differently. Jacob's poems all relate to his visits to patients in a palliative care hospital. Flanigan's writing is more general. In his poem Fog (p. 23) he gives the fog a life of its own.

Fog quietly delivers its message: move softly love gently accept mystery.

His metaphoric descriptions of the seasons convey the message of birth, growth, adulthood and death as in Beneath the Snow (p. 86).

During the darkest winter night slumbering beneath the snow seeds and bulbs wait for the windsong of spring…

And in the last verse:

the ancient voices that proclaimed for everything there is a season.

McQueen's use of cool and warm colors, vibrant shapes and abstract designs give a harmonious melody throughout the book. For example, the photograph on page 14 of a pair of shears cutting leaves in a garden can be seen as a pair of hands. The poem Scents (p.14) also illustrates this abstract concept in the second verse:

The garden sought his attention seducing him to sink his strong hands into its moist soil.

Flanigan's vivid use of our five senses — taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound — is evident in many of his picturesque poems. Here is one example in the poem entitled Sunflowers (p. 30):

Sunflowers are the giants of the garden. They watch the movement of the field mouse… They breathe the heavy perfume of the honeysuckle and jasmine… They hear the hum of the bee… They know more than all the other plants…

Also note the anthropomorphic descriptions of the flora and fauna of his garden above.

The poet compares living and dying to the blooming and wilting of flowers in the first and last verses of the following, The Love Poem (p. 17):

He started to write a love poem on the petals of a daisy… Before black ink stained the last white petal, she touched his neck and whispered “ I love you ”.

Although poems about dying can be depressing, Flanigan always ends his on a positive note seen in the last verse of Fairy Dance (p. 25).

Further off shore giant whales spout white plumes of hot breath and sing for us all.

The poem on page 37, Now, talks about the importance of each moment in our lives.

but I like to think about Now. I mean this moment or maybe the next. with this color in the sky, this scent in the wind, this hand on my shoulder…

So does This Life (p. 53):

I struggle each day hardly able to live this life and experience this body… But today I am content to see a face that simply needs a shave.

Eckart Tolle corroborates this concept in his book The Power of Now (p. 95). He talks about the pain-body and tells us how to connect with our inner body:

…Feel it from within. … Can you feel it simultaneously in all parts of the body as a single field of energy? Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few moments…

In conclusion, Patrick W. Flanigan, poet; David McQueen, photographer; and Christine Crozier, artist have worked together to produce a book of graphic illustrations, vivid descriptions of nature, and contemplative writings that will soothe any soul.

Order this book by check or money order for $24.95 plus $2.00 shipping, from Pacific Grove Publishing, PO Box 803, Pacific Grove, CA 93950; 831-595-1600, fax (831) 375-4749; Email: pgpublishing@redshift.com.

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