Robert H. Deluty is associate dean of the graduate school, associate professor of Psychology and affiliate associate professor of English at UMBC.
My vocations are associate dean, psychology professor, and clinical psychologist; my avocation is writing poetry. I would give the same answer to “Why do you write poems” as I would to “Why do you practice psychotherapy?” My goals are to connect, unburden, and enlighten. Through teaching, advising, mentoring, doing research and therapy, and writing poetry, I seek to strengthen community, empower others, and contribute to the common good on campus and beyond.
The son of an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor, I grew up in a loving family living within a crime-infested section of the Bronx, New York. Many of my relatives and neighbors were refugees from war-ravaged Eastern Europe and had been (and/or were currently) victims of physical and psychological trauma, profound loss, mental illness, and poverty. Some of my earliest memories are of stories of extraordinary cruelty and degradation; of murdered grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; of “ordinary persons” who committed these murders; and of Jewish and Gentile heroes who gave their lives to save and protect others. I felt compelled to retell their stories, either orally or in writing; and, through, my professional work, to strive to understand the nature of aggression, deprivation, and prejudice, and to treat their psychological consequences.
A vivid memory of my father became the following poem:
I remember his left arm.
Leather-tough, lightly freckled,
Thick as a fireplace log.
Culminating in short, dense fingers
With near-perfectly round nails.
Most memorable, though, was the forearm,
Damaged by five blue numbers:
His concentration camp tattoo.
A daily/nightly reminder of
Evil and martyrdom,
Faith and resilience.
The stories I tell through my poems, however, are not only about trauma, loss, and their aftermath. I also share stories about the pleasures and struggles (for myself and for others) of being a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a child, a sibling, a teacher, a clinician, a mentor, and a human being. These stories allow me to share my feelings, thoughts, and memories; and to experience an “unburdening” when particularly painful stories are conveyed to empathic others. When these stories touch, enlighten, or inspire my readers/listeners to reflect on and share their own thoughts, emotions, or experiences, then they, too, may feel unburdened and connected.
Three poems that I am fond of sharing and discussing with my therapy clients and my UMBC students are:
Anxious when working,
Guilty if shirking.
Fearing heightened expectations
When work is commendable,
Dreading disapproving gazes
For efforts lamentable.
And should perfection be achieved,
Comfort is painfully brief,
For a fall from grace is awaited,
Stifling hope of lasting relief.
Too Long in Academia
Put my latest effort in
A colleague’s mailbox.
Thanks for your memo,
He noted later.
It’s called a poem,
Each day provides
Seventeen sleepless hours,
Each hour, a boxing round.
Depression, the opponent.
Jabs hopelessness, dejection.
Absorbs counterpunches of doubt,
Uppercuts suicidal ideation.
Withstands daily punishment,
Both self- and other-inflicted.
Yet refuses to retire
From the ring.
Having my students and therapy clients read and reflect upon poems such as these has resulted in shared smiles, tears, remembrances, understanding, and healing. I hope that my works as a poet (and as a professor, clinician, and administrator) are regarded as civic contributions, not merely as literary or academic efforts. It would give me great pleasure if they helped to foster the noble civic engagement goals of BreakingGround.
Contact the author, Robert H. Deluty, at email@example.com.