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Author Russ Riendeau; photo by Matt Kosterman.

Featured Article

Poetry In Commotion

Neuroscience Suggests Poetry is a Safe, Transformative Medicine.

Article by Russ Riendeau

Photography by Matt Kosterman & Russ Riendeau

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

In my new book of poems, prose and perspectives titled Somewhere Past Gum Creek, I’ve embedded a character who is in new territory. Exhausted, conflicted and suffering, a mountain climber stands atop a frozen summit. His frostbitten hands are missing two fingers—frozen solid, snapped clean off at the knuckles—now merely souvenirs stuffed in his coat pocket. Nevertheless, he takes in this glorious vista from the top-of-the-world. Abruptly, a random thought kidnaps—no, assassinates—this brilliant experience: he remembers that before leaving home he forgot to pick up his dry cleaning. Suddenly, the routine of his life eclipses his moment of exhilaration.

We are all in new territory, aren’t we? What a lot of commotion. With a pandemic still looming large but with a vaccine-in-the-works holding promise of a reprieve, we yearn to return to the routine of a normalized daily life. Paradoxically, we also seek escape. Confinement wears on us, isolates us, holds us hostage ‘till we just want to disappear… teleport ourselves perhaps into a space promising new life adventures as we summit the COVID-19 mountain looming over us. We’re now so far away from our prior routines, it sometimes feels like, well, trying to get out of a parking lot after a Chicago Bears game. (“Will we ever get home?”)

These juxtaposed, innately-human emotions of wanting predictable daily living while our exploring minds scan the horizon for something exciting, meaningful, worthwhile—even life-defining—provide an exciting opportunity to examine ourselves in a recovering world.

So, how does this lingering pandemic and the spirit and future of 2021 connect to and integrate with creativity, whether it’s poetry, art or music? Do these art forms impact us now, either as creators of or consumers of the work?

Personally, this pandemic has advanced my age somewhere between 3—47 years. Just a guess. At times I feel exhausted, even helpless. I wonder if I’m doing my job effectively. Challenged to feel optimistic about the future, I spend a lot of time contemplating my life decisions. Asking myself if “I’m on the right path” is just one of the many questions poking me.

In sum: Sometimes it’s a real bummer.

On the flip side, this confinement has opened new channels of expression, emotions, ideas and philosophies that I’d never previously been forced to examine. (Why? Because there wasn’t a looming cloud of a virus lurking.) I have had friends lose a job. Others have tested positive for the virus. I have friends who have had loved ones get sick and die. I feel all their pain. It is real and it is downright scary. From this type of reflection self-awareness appears, tapping my shoulder frequently, suggesting I reconsider a few ideas, habits and activities that were wasting my time.

Though this shared tragedy, higher powers perhaps have sent me clues: images and ideas to explore that hadn’t appeared in my mind before. So, I took the hint. I started writing ideas down more, drawing pictures without an end in mind. I had no agenda. I simply let my fingers follow the words and images that came into my imagination. Poetry ideas appeared; random phrases I heard or read that would typically pass me by took on a whole new meaning. This was exciting and uplifting, and gave me new resolve to keep vigilant in my work, my play, and my commitment to exploring what could lie Somewhere Past Gum Creek… an imaginary destination where I captured these inspirations. Through this metaphorical approach I found a place to hike, explore, think, and see a world of opportunity. My biggest realization of this pandemic was the evolution of this book; as a rookie, I learned a new craft to make sense of the world through prose, poetry and art.

In 2021,I look to a rejuvenating world. Science will help us repair and restore the damage done to bodies and minds, friends and families. It will give us confidence to invest in our futures, and re-build the routines that keep us grounded and effective. And it will renew my personal faith that people can accomplish great things. I’ve learned to embrace gratitude more than ever.

What also became ever clearer was that science also confirms that the power of poetry, in any form, by any writer, enhances our wellbeing and even promotes physical and emotional healing. Metaphorical imagery and the uniqueness of creative expression have shown proof, in brain imagery scans and blood chemistry, to enhance brain function. This evidence obviously appeals to me as a behavioral scientist. As an artist and writer though, I engage because of how great it feels (not to mention how it helps lower my blood pressure). At the end of the day it is good to know that the many benefits are for real.

I encourage you to let the past year really influence your inner compass around what you now feel are your priorities, including your real gifts that may have lain dormant until now. Don’t try to drown out these deeper emotions that appear. Let them resonate, so they may give you greater perspective and meaning to move forward.

You have these gifts. Let this new year be the time you too summit that metaphorical mountain, to both respect the routine and give more time to the pursuit of your adventures that lay somewhere past your own mythological creek.

Wear warm gloves, too.

Lake Barrington’s Russ Riendeau has authored 12 books; his newest, Somewhere Past Gum Creek, is available on Amazon Kindle. Riendeau’s unique art has been featured in several times in SW Lake Lifestyle. Find us on Facebook ( to enter a raffle for a printed copy of his book.

  • "Kids and Kites."
  • Author Russ Riendeau; photo by Matt Kosterman.
  • "The Dragon Fly Visits Paris."
  • Below: "New Frontier."
  • Upper Right: "Medicine Man."