Saturday, May 30

Poetry workshop helps sexual assault survivors work through emotions

In the two hour long workshops, Ribisi gives attendees as much time as they need to write, and then allows them to share if they wish. She gives some guidance on how to structure poetry, a powerful format for expressing difficult emotions, she said. (Isra Ameen/Daily Bruin)

Lucia Santina Ribisi hand-sewed 20 poetry notebooks for attendees of her first poetry writing workshop to write in.

The first-year art student gave away the books at her poetry writing workshop for survivors of sexual assault. The workshop was part of an April 4 event for Bruin Consent Coalition’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Ribisi said she hopes to create safe and compassionate spaces with her workshops for participants to use poetry as a means of expression and therapy.

“This is a workshop for people to write poetry using their own subconscious intuition, and they’re given a space to write,” Ribisi said.

Ella Williams, a first-year human biology and society and political science student, first came up with the idea for the workshop as a Bruin Consent Coalition event which would provide a creative and supportive outlet for survivors. Williams said she contacted FEM magazine in search of someone to lead the workshop and found Ribisi, who is involved with the publication.

“I wanted an event that would be supportive for survivors, kind of a resource or an outlet for them to talk about their experiences if they wanted to,” Williams said.

Williams said it can be difficult for sexual assault survivors to open up about their experiences, but writing poetry can help them air out their thoughts and emotions. She added with some guidance on how to structure poetry, it can also become a powerful format to write down difficult emotions.

“I feel like a lot of times, survivors feel like they’re not being heard, and this is a great way to show we’re here for them and want to hear their voices and their stories,” Williams said.

Though the first poetry writing workshop was intended for survivors of sexual assault, Ribisi said she offered it again last week for art students as well, focusing on using poetry writing as a practice of self-compassion and communication rather than as a tool to overcome trauma.

Jennifer Gould, a third-year theater student, attended Ribisi’s first poetry workshop. Gould said she was able to write more freely in the workshop since she didn’t feel as self-aware and judgmental about her writing in the atmosphere, since the goal wasn’t to write well but to express herself. She also said writing about the way she feels toward her assaulter and her efforts to heal were emotional enough to bring her to tears, and helped her feel more comfortable with herself after her experiences.

“Your home has to be within yourself. I started writing about entering back into my home after my relationship ended. It was basically about how I came back into myself,” Gould said, “My writing was just flowing freely, because she created a safe space for us all.”

To create a comfortable space for the writers like Gould, Ribisi heated essential oils and played music from artists such as Brian Eno to give the room a calming air. Her goal was to encourage people to be willing to embrace silly or dumb thoughts they might feel insecure about.

“Some of the dumb poems that come are some of the most beautiful, pure, profound works that there are, and we need to respect that,” Ribisi said, “When we can cultivate self-compassion, we can see it in others too.”

At Ribisi’s first poetry workshop, participants also received a notebook she cut and sewed by hand, containing pages of different types, textures and sizes of paper for whatever they felt they needed. For example, some contained graph paper folded creatively so that writers could cover their work if they desired. For the second workshop, Ribisi offered to bind the various papers of poems into notebooks after they had finished writing them, she said.

At the beginning of the workshops, which were around two hours long, Ribisi said she gave the participants prompts and as much time as they needed to write. Then at the end, participants who wanted to share could do so.

“I felt heard by hearing their stories,” Ribisi said. “I didn’t have to share my story to know that I was relating to these people.”

Ribisi said she believes there needs to be a shift in the way people understand and talk about art and therapy by placing a greater emphasis on nonjudgmental practices and acceptance of all aspects of the self. Ribisi said much of her art and the workshops she leads focus on connecting with others.

“I want them to feed their inner demons, and that’s about holding yourself compassionately,” Ribisi said.

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