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How Salaam Green Listens to UAB Health Care Workers, Turns Their Stories into Poems

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By Shannon Thomason

UAB News

An artist is creating poems after listening to health care staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham tell stories of their experiences.

Salaam Green, an artist-in-residence with UAB Arts in Medicine, (AIM) is a certified Listener Poet. Through the Listener Poet program, the poets hold space for people to share whatever is on their minds, which is reflected back to them through a custom poem. A writer and storyteller, Green facilitates writing-to-heal workshops for AIM.

For National Poetry Month in April, UAB Arts in Medicine is inviting people to participate in Listener Poet sessions. Green is meeting with health professionals including Rodney Tucker, M.D., director of the Center for Palliative and Supportive Care, and Malcolm Marler, leadership support specialist for UAB Medicine, to create the poems. The goal is to have 10 completed poems posted to an online gallery, which will include the text and audio, along with the backstory.

The program began at UAB with health care staff but has been expanded to include anyone who works at UAB. To participate in a Listener Poet session with Green, email laurenme@uab.edu.

These sessions provide spaces for clinicians and others to connect with their thoughts and emotions, be heard deeply, and receive the gift of a poem. The published poems connect the UAB community and provide a sense of universality and normalization for people experiencing similar issues.

Marler says he is so grateful for the poem Green wrote for him.

“The poem Salaam wrote about my experience in the pandemic from a brief interview was emotionally healing and gave me an opportunity to step outside of my experience to learn important lessons going forward,” Marler said.

Green is an award-winning poet and author, a 2020-21 Eco-Poetry fellow, a Reimagining Justice fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 2016 Poet Laureate for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and a New Economy Coalition Climate Solutions fellow. Green’s work has appeared in The Birmingham Times, Scalawag, Bust, Feminist Review, Black Youth Project, Elephant Journal, Southern Women’s Review, AL.com, Birmingham Arts Journal and more.

The Good Listening Project began when co-founder Frankie Abralind combined his passion for health care with his hobby of writing custom poetry for people he talked with on the street in Washington, D.C. Abralind quickly learned that the gift he was giving was the listening. When thoughtful listeners hold space, people feel heard and understood, and the experience is often cathartic.

The Listener Poet program, which envisions a resilient world where all people experience connection and belonging, was launched in 2018. It delivers healing arts programs in-person and remotely to organizations across the continent. They have worked with more than 25 partners, including premier medical institutions.

UAB Arts in Medicine is a partnership between UAB Medicine and UAB Visual and Performing Arts, and underscores UAB’s commitment to patient-centered care. Started in 2013, the program provides services on a rotating schedule to a growing number of UAB Medicine units.

AIM strives to transform the care environment and enhance well-being and healing through creative arts experiences for patients, families and staff. Integrating the arts into the health care environment has been shown to benefit patients and caregivers by reduced stress levels, reduction in perceived pain, improved mood, distraction from medical problems, and increased self-expression and self-confidence.