For Denver poet Wayne A. Gilbert, art is an escape from Parkinson’s

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Photo: Parkinson's artist Wayne Gilbert, Reconnect with Your Body dance class
Wayne A. Gilbert, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2005, in a "Reconnect with your Body" dance class at the Apex Community Center in Arvada on April 1, 2015.

When Wayne A. Gilbert of Denver learned he had Parkinson's Disease in 2005, the first thing he did was write a poem.

He wrote, "this body, has a hole, punctured in, its ozone." Then Gilbert recruited a friend to put some of his verse to music.

That's just one escape for him. Another is through the dance class he helped start in Arvada for Parkinson's patients called "Reconnect with your Body." He also co-founded the experimental US in a BOX Theatre Workshop.

Photo: Reconnect with Your Body dance for Parkinson's class in Arvada
From left to right: Instructor Sarah Leversee leads Wayne A. Gilbert, Amy Dressel-Martin and Jan Leversee in a "Reconnect with Your Body" dance class on April 1, 2015.

Institute for Poetic Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., teaches inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility how to read and write poetry.

He sat down with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner to talk about his various projects and how they help him -- and others.

Gilbert on his poem 'toxic psalm,' which he wrote after his diagnosis:

"I [used] metaphors of climate change because my entire world was altered in a way that was quite analogous to the planet being altered by climate change. From the inside out, that's how it feels. My personal, individual, physical world had changed that much -- or so it felt hearing the actual words 'Parkinson's Disease.'"

On how the prisoners in Sterling may benefit from poetry:

"Art, in general, but poetry, in particular, has a way of accessing inner resources that a person may not otherwise be aware of. And those inner resources are the kinds of characteristics, qualities, strengths that can help a person be more resilient. .... I don't want to get too metaphorical because prison is a nasty place to be. And yet, everyone is kind of in a prison. Parkinson's is a kind of prison, if you will. And to write your way out without leaving is a thing I think poetry can do."

On how all these creative activities help him heal:

"What struck me most when I first started dancing, was how it focused on what I could do -- or doing things I never thought of doing -- as opposed to all the things I've lost, can't do or am losing. ... When I'm dancing, when I'm making a poem, when I'm acting in a play, I can forget that I have Parkinson's for a little while."

An excerpt from "toxic psalm:"

this body
has a hole
punctured in
its ozone

this body
is experiencing

this body
is a flashlight
whose battery
is dying
in the darkest

this body
is about to be sealed
off from