Three MN poets explore the body’s memory of illness, trauma

Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara, MS. Diversity Program Director for the Office for Diversity at Mayo Clinic
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Poetry offers a road to empowerment at a slam event next week.

Next Thursday, Twin Cities poet Frank Sentwali takes the stage with Rochester-based poets Danny Solis and Pam Whitfield.

Embodied Knowing: A Spoken Word Celebration of Diversity and Inclusion was organized by Mayo’s office of diversity in honor of Black History Month, Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara, MS, the diversity program director at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine’s Office for Diversity, said. The event is cohosted and sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine.

It’ll be a lot like a traditional slam poetry event, in that each poet will present work individually, Nfonoyim-Hara, But all three are also planning to work together on at least one collaborative piece.

"Collaborative pieces are a really great mark of the slam poet genre, but you don’t see it a lot," Nfonoyim-Hara said. "It’s usually a lone-wolf type of thing."


Poetry offers a way to work through complex issues, like racism and sexism in medicine -- artfully but unflinchingly.

"I think it can make the world right, help put it back together in some ways," she said.

Nfonoyim-Hara referred to an Audre Lorde quote for the themes of the event: "We recognize that all knowledge is mediated through the body and that feeling is a profound source of information about our lives." Danny Solis also has a poem, " The Body Remembers ," that explores how years hard living and trauma remain in the body, even if the mind might choose to forget.

As an artist herself and a person of color, Nfonoyim-Hara has spent a lot of time thinking about how she’s internalized many of her lived experiences.

Taking race and gender into account in medical spaces -- especially given the impact of racism, sexism, and colonialism on people of color -- is hugely important, both for patients and their medical providers.

"In the medical sense … it’s the importance of ... seeing the patient in front of you, taking that into account. Whatever ails us is also a product of the things that you’ve lived through, and that is a type of knowledge," she said.

After the performances, audience members will have a chance to ask questions in a Q&A. There will also be a panel of Mayo Clinic artists/students who’ll talk about the intersection of practicing medicine and using the body in art. Members of Loud Mouth Brass will also play at a reception before the event begins.

"I think this type of embodied knowledge also empowers the person who lives in (the body in question," Nfonoyim-Hara said. "A lot of times knowledge, and particularly medical knowledge, is reserved for the experts. And the experts have degrees. (But) you know your body. You know your life, and you know your disease and whatever ails you. Those should be sources of empowerment in a way. And you have knowledge in your body of what can heal, too."


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What: Embodied Knowing: A Spoken Word Celebration of Diversity and Inclusion

When: 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6

Where: Mayo Civic Center ballroom lobby,

Cost: Free, sign up to attend at or by calling 507-284-5266

10 (or so) questions with. . . Danny Solis

Related Topics: POETRY
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