A retired nurse, Lois Edstrom knows firsthand the power of a healing touch.
Whereas once she used her hands to address physical wounds, she now uses them to assuage pain of a more emotional nature, choosing a pen over a stethoscope as her instrument of choice.
After a decades-long career in healthcare, including several years at Whidbey Internal Medicine, the Coupeville poet retired in 2004 to allocate more of her time to writing.
Since then she has published numerous poems in anthologies and journals, as well as two chapbooks and a recently released full-length collection “Night Beyond Black.”
She has also received several accolades, including two Hackney National Literary Awards, an Artist’s Embassy International Award, a Dr. Zylpha Mapp Robinson International Poetry Award and the Benefactor’s Award from the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference.
Garrison Keillor of “The Writer’s Almanac” selected two of Edstrom’s poems, “Choices We Make When We Are Too Young to Make Them” and “Almanac” to read on the program this summer.
The first poem, in which Edstrom discusses her experience caring for her dying father in his final days, provides an example of what Edstrom says is one of poetry’s greatest gifts: its ability to help individuals cope with loss.
The idea of navigating darkness in search of light and beauty is a motif central to “Night Beyond Black,” Edstrom said.
The title was inspired by a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, which read in part “a night painting without black, with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green.”
This belief in the healing power of poetry is one shared by Ruth Arnison, editor of “Poems in the Waiting Room.”
The New Zealand-based organization publishes 7,750 poetry cards each season. The free cards are distributed to waiting rooms in locations such as hospitals, doctor offices, jails and nursing homes.
Arnison selected Edstrom’s poem “Almanac” to be featured as one of the 7-8 poems to be printed in the December edition of the cards.
In an email, Arnison said she heard Edstrom’s poem read on “The Writer’s Almanac” and immediately thought it appropriate for her readers.
“I specifically choose poems that are upbeat and cheerful as I’m not wanting the patients to go into their appointments feeling worse or more depressed than when they arrived,” she wrote, adding that readers often remark that they enjoy the poems because they are easily-accessible and positive.
“They frequently mention that they are a wonderful contrast to the often tired magazines in waiting rooms whose contents can’t seem to get beyond facelifts, fashion and infidelity,” she wrote.
The mingling of her past and current occupations is one Edstrom found to be a pleasant surprise.
She noted that the two are quite different in some respects — nursing can be fast-paced and intense, while writing requires attentiveness, and is more meditative. But she also added that there is some correlation.
“In nursing you’re connected to people, you’re caring for people through losses and joys, through deaths and births,” she said. “I guess in that way it might be similar, slightly, to poetry because you’re still using poetry to connect with people through losses and joys.”
Through her words, Edstrom offers readers a moment of respite, of solace.
Edstrom quoted as a sort of mantra Alberto Rios’ statement, “A moment is just a moment; and that moment is everything.”
“It’s so simple but so profound about living in the moment. I think poetry allows you to do that,” she said. “Something piques your interest and you look at it more closely. It enhances your life.”
“Night Beyond Black” is available online through Edstrom’s website and Amazon, as well as at Wind and Tide Book Shop in Oak Harbor, Moonraker Books in Langley and The Kingfisher Book Store in Coupeville.