Creating poetry as a healing process

Merion's Cindy Savett has published of book of poems that express her feelings about having lost her 8-year-old daughter

By Linda Dormont
from Main Line Life

July 9, 2008

It is painful for a mother to express her feelings about the loss of a child. Yet, in her recently published book of poetry, Child in the Road, Merion resident Cindy Savett allows us to follow her emotional journey in the years following the sudden death of her 8-year-old daughter, Rachel, in 2000. Rachel, the youngest child of Rob and Cindy Savett, died of anaphylactic shock as a result of eating food that contained a dairy product to which she was allergic. As is so often the case in these situations, no one could have known that the food that evening contained antigens, which induce an immune response in people who have such an allergy.

The Savetts have done many things to work through their grief. In 2001, they established the Rachel Savett Seed Memorial Foundation at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia to underwrite research into anaphylaxis. Also, over the last four years, Cindy Savett has created and has been conducting poetry workshops on a volunteer basis to patients at mental hospitals and other institutions. The emotional toll of Rachel's death led her to work through her grief through the medium she knew best: poetry.

"I've written poetry since I was 11 years old," said the author, who, like her husband, grew up in Merion. "When I was a student at Baldwin School, I was the editor of their creative writing magazine. I continued writing at the University of Pennsylvania, where I chose my own major, a combination of philosophy, religious thought, and sociology, which I named The Individual Versus Society. And I attended poetry workshops in Provincetown, in New York City, and at the Camden Culture Center.

All her writing was independent work, not intended for publication, she explained. In fact, after earning her B.A. from Penn in 1975, she went to work for her family's clothing business, advancing from clerk to senior vice president for merchandizing over the course of 15 years. At the same time, her husband, Rob Savett, was a sportswriter, using the byline Bob Savett, for The Evening Bulletin. The couple now have two grown children, Alison, 27, and Sean, 17.

Child in the Road, which was published by Parlor Press, is written in the free-verse medium, which its author said is her natural means of poetic expression.

"I put my raw thoughts and ideas down in longhand over a period of time," she explained. "Then I put them on the computer, reading everything with my gut and my chest, not my head, trying to distill and refine my words and lines into a coherent whole."

Her book, which is actually a series of short poems that read in their entirety as one continuous poem, is replete with images of pain, grieving, and death. "I grieve for your eyes, for the night's white breath, the river growing wild in the absence of a name," she writes in one piece.

Yet, her allusions are often beautiful and moving. She has allowed herself to find beauty in a world that surrounds her with reminders of the child she has lost.

The poet spends most of her working hours these days helping others. She leads five poetry workshops for mentally disturbed patients at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, for example. She said benefits to workshop members are impressive.

"Poetry allows them to access their inner voice, to put words to their emotions," she said. "It helps them process the pain they are in and to bond with one another through my reading their poetry to the group. And each one of them is a unique voice."

She also conducts poetry workshops at Renfrew Center in Roxborough (whose patients are mostly young people with eating disorders), for adolescents at Delaware County Intermediate Unit, and at Carelink in Clifton Heights.

Despite four decades of writing her own poetry, Savett was reluctant, at first, to publish her manuscripts. "I thought it might be an intrusion into my privacy," she recalled.

But, having been encouraged by friends and professional colleagues to publish nonetheless, she said she is now happy to have done so.

"In the year and a half after my daughter died," she said, "I was constantly writing these poems. I had a need to vent, to express what I felt was trapped inside me. And, when I reread them later, I felt I was being burnt. There was so much fire in me when I wrote them."


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