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UHS’ Bynum finds health in writing poetry

Some say writing is the science of the heart.

Poetry and science are two disparate disciplines, but the Director of Behavioral Medicine and Principal Psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Mental Health Services has made a career out of both fields.

Edward Bruce Bynum PhD, A.B.P.P. is the recipient of the 2010 Naomi Long Madgett award, a nationally ranked poetry award for African-American poets who submit unpublished poetry manuscripts.

Bynum won the award for his submission, “Chronicles of the Pig and other Delusions.”

Bynum said the title comes from some of the poems in the collection, in addition to some ideas running through his head.

“Well, ‘Chronicles of the Pig’ comes from some poems in the collection. The other delusions are, well, the other poems,” he said.

The other poems are not only delusions, however, full of insights into another world – the space between creative style and scientific understanding.

Presented and published by Lotus Press, located in Detroit, Mich., the award is given once a year in the late November. Bynum was selected out of hundreds of submissions by Claude Wilkinson, a Mississippi resident and fellow African-American poet.

Bynum said he decided to submit his own work to be reviewed for the award. He said he feels the chances of winning are always very slim.

“It was a long shot. You have to be used to hearing ‘no,’” he said.

Over the years, he has submitted his work to many national poetry competitions, but described this as one of his proudest accomplishments, emphasizing how difficult it is to get poetry published.

Bynum received the unexpected phone call one evening.

“I was blown away; I was at the table with my wife, and it was the publisher of the house who called. I was very surprised and very pleased.”

As a psychologist, Bynum said reaching or working towards a creative side can be beneficial and helpful to understanding one’s self. He applies this discipline to his life and to his patients.

“Poetry can help people find their voice,” said Bynum.

He said being a poet and a health professional is no different than being “a poet, a baker, an engineer or a plumber, they might just as well be part of the arts. There is an expressive side to each personality. Mine just happens to be poetry,” he said.

Bynum began writing at a young age, but started to take poetry seriously as a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University.

“I was first published when I was in the third grade,” he mused.

His poetry stems from being “moved by lots of things,” and Bynum says his work is, “drawn to imagery and lyricism and the physical and psychological aspects that make us human.”

He described science as a way of understanding the human brain and human existence, but said the arts play an important role in understanding what composes people on an individual basis.

“Without the arts, it’s deadly. It’s all over,” Brown said, with a touch of wry wit.

Bynum takes inspiration from both modern and classic poetry. He describes his older influences as “a fusion of Pablo Neruda, Whitman, Langston Hughes and Ann Sexton. Each has something.”

Bynum said of current works and living literature that he reads “Charles Simic, James Tate, Gerrard Barrex and Derek Walcott.”

Bynum described poetry as something people can always come back to, leaving it alone for even years and returning when inspiration strikes.

Bynum has been with the University for 31 years and serves as lead psychologist. He is originally from Southern California and later New Hampshire, where he began his career at UMass in 1979.

As a professional at UMass, Bynum balances science and the creative process in what he describes as one cohesive way of looking at both aspects. In his daily work as a psychologist, he finds the need and room for creativity to thrive. Bynum has specialized in the psychology of dreams, and expressed how this area of study influences his creative works. 

“The need for a creative outlet allows for a surrealistic approach to the dream world in poetry.”

Currently Bynum is working on three writing projects, one in psychology and two creative writing works. He is the author of five books in psychology and three books of poetry. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, as well.

“Chronicles of the Pig and other Delusions,” includes what Bynum describes as “a collection of poems, loosely connected.”

Bynum’s award-winning collection divides into four sections, beginning with poems narrating the life of a pig, as Bynum connects the pig’s birth, life and death. The award came with a prize of $500 and publishing by Lotus Press.

Chelsea Whitton can be reached at cwhitton@student.umass.edu.

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