How to Save a Life: Healing Power of Poetry
Dr. Barbara Loeb is a primary care physician and former Chief Medical Officer in what she now calls the encore phase of her career. Like many of her physician colleagues, she focused on caring for others and lost sight of self-care along the way. The impact of the pandemic, along with personal losses and health issues, made her realize the importance of self-care to empower her to help others. This led her to spend countless hours reflecting and writing on North Kangaroo Lake.
With her book How to Save a Life: Healing Power of Poetry, published in 2021, she redefines her path as a physician, leader, partner, daughter, parent and grandparent, by placing moving words on the universal experiences we all recognize in our daily lives. She utilizes the principles of presence, reflection, self-awareness and compassion to create poetry, which takes us along on her healer’s journey.
Dr. Loeb’s ultimate aim is to inspire her readers to reflect on their own path to well-being through self-expression. By sharing her poems and the vibrant artwork of her late mother Judy “Salsa” Loeb, Dr. Loeb hopes to reveal the great strength we all can build through opening ourselves up and letting out our creative energy.
1. What’s your writing routine?
A perfect time for me is morning when I’m still in between a sleep and an awake state. A short period of silence or meditation combined with stretching or yoga opens a creative space where I am inspired to write. Being outside in nature in places like Door County with its simple beauty widens this space. When I build a daily ritual around this, poetry flows more easily.
2. What do most poorly written poems have in common?
The overuse of cliché. There is a tendency to use words or phrases that are cliché when we are trying to compose something poetic. This pattern is easy to fall into and I have been subject to it myself. I think it’s because we instinctively feel that these clichés describe common experiences which make a poem feel more relatable to the reader. Unfortunately, they can make the poem seem unoriginal and uninteresting.
3. What do most well-written poems have in common?
Have you ever noticed after a moving poem is read a sigh is heard coming from the audience? That sigh is my measure of a good poem. It needs to have the ability to trigger a deep connection with the audience. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” A well-written poem, a great poem, makes you “feel.”
4. Is it important to understand the meaning of the poem or for the reader to be able to ‘solve’ it?
I don’t believe a poem should have to be solved or intellectually digested for meaning. Although there are many good poems that are heavy with cryptic metaphors and symbols that can be intriguing and give the reader an opportunity to transform the mundane into something deeper, it’s not a must. A simple poem that is easily ingestible and accessible can hold tremendous value.
5. What book are you reading right now?
I am reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. It weaves a path for the reader to move toward self-acceptance and healing. I believe that gaining that ability for myself and for others can free us to connect with the unique wisdom and creativity that we all carry inside of ourselves.
Peninsula Poetry is a monthly column curated by the Door County Poets Collective, a 12-member working group that was formed to publish Soundings: Door County in Poetry in 2015, and continues to meet.
Poems by Barbara Loeb, MD
Reflections on Medicine and Humanity (2022)
At 3 I learned to hop on one foot – my mother cheering
At 8 she freed my hand – I glided gracefully across the ice
At 13 – yes 13 – she let go of my bike handlebars – off I went
At 28 I jogged cautiously with my baby strapped to my belly
At 42 I hiked a narrow rocky path on the edge of a cliff
At 52 I ziplined weightless through the clouds across an abyss
At 67 I learned to hop on one foot – my grandchildren cheering
At every stage, we find our balance
to cautiously venture to the tipping point
and draw back at exactly the right moment.
If we misstep, we find ways to recover
with more resilience than when we began.
How to Save a Life: Healing Power of Poetry (2021)
Taking second first steps…
Eyes laugh, lips smile.
Happy feet run on tiptoes
to join the others.
Not so long ago,
stopped in his tracks.
Loved ones, fearful.
Tiny body without doubt.
No worries, can’ts, won’ts,
only why nots?
God’s miracles do happen.
Taking second first steps…
I’m floating in a sea of uncertainty
beneath the surface among shiny objects.
Reaching for one, I am distracted by another.
Turning back, the first one disappears.
Dazzled by yet another and another—
I try to scoop them up.
They slip through my looped arms,
gracefully dancing in slow motion,
just out of reach.
I turn and search, my goggles clouded.
I swim to the surface, gasping for air.
With one deep breath and not even a pause—
I dive down again and again.