Momentary Stays by Ruth D. Handel


The first morning I walked into the women’s unit of the psychiatric hospital, my assignment as a volunteer was to read six or seven poems, provide some background on the poets, and hear whatever the patients had to say.  The poems in this book reflect the emotions and experiences of women who attended those workshops. In sessions designed as invitations to participate, the women read and discussed poetry, talked and wrote about the feelings, experiences or hopes the poems evoked, and shared their responses with the group. This book offers a truthful, but not necessarily factual, account of the workshop experience. Whether written impersonally, or imagined as a first person account, or paraphrased in the interest of confidentiality, my poems are meant to convey a sense of the workshops, the variety of responses expressed, and the context and tone of the women’s participation. The poems that patients wrote in the workshops, as well as those of published authors presented for discussion, were meant as opportunities for enhancing the self.  The poetry perhaps also served, as Robert Frost said, as “momentary stays against confusion,” possibly as more.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 86
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: March 2017
  • ISBN: 978-1-939929-77-8


Ruth Handel’s unique collection of poems provides pleasure on many levels.  Writing in the voices of her workshop members, she convinces you of living breathing women in a locked ward giving voice to their deepest feelings; offering as well the careful selection of poems she’d used as prompts; her own poems as responses to their intimate struggles; and a summary of the healing process she created through seven years of direct contact. Throughout this book, the compassion, wisdom and skill of the author shine out. The language is colorful with innovative surprises. Moving, sensitive and wise, this is the work of a mature poet on uncharted ground, an important book that affirms for us all “there are breadcrumbs in these woods” —Natalie Safir

Ruth Handel’s Momentary Stays is a remarkable hybrid of lyric, documentary poetics, and inspiration for teachers. Drawing on seven years of poetry workshops with women in a psychiatric hospital, Handel assembles a rich and moving account of the growing recognition, from both teacher and participants, that “We need these proxies, / more fluent than ourselves.” Poems that record the patients’ impressions appear alongside masterpieces by Blake, Keats, and Dickinson, as well as references to poems by Maya Angelou, Stanley Kunitz, and others. Dynamic and polyphonic, the book presents layers of listening and response with careful fidelity to the difficulty and complexity of the tasks at hand: how to “voice an old pain,” how to abide “terrible knowledge,” how to access and reclaim “the life spark of humor, / which can shine out anywhere, for anyone.” Handel acknowledges the tenuous line between illness and health, the constant flux of light and dark—Blake’s “lamb and beast”—behind what appears to be a stable self. “Which cards of identity will prove I belong on the outside?” she asks wryly, finding herself one day without egress from the locked ward. Bearing witness to ongoing struggles for self-actualization and recovery, these shared encounters nonetheless offer sustaining hope in the transformative power of poetry: “We walk in its air, / sensing a portal.” —B.K. Fischer

In her heartfelt journal, Ruth Handel demonstrates the healing and “re-creation” of self that is possible through the sensitive art of leading poetry workshops on a psychiatric women’s unit. She creates an eloquent conversation through poetry that enabled these women to transcend boundaries of class, race, age, education, and culture, and to speak their innermost truths. She portrays diverse characters among the patients — a rap singer, the woman new to poetry workshops, the writer who won an unclaimed award, and the one who finally shared her secret. Their responses, often moving or funny, enable the reader to see how poetry provides them a window into clarity and integration. Ruth’s book is a moving testimony to the vulnerability and bravery of women on their uncertain journeys of recovery from acute psychiatric illness. —Emily Chaya Weinstein, Occupational Therapist, New-York Presbyterian Hospital


Jane’s Homage to Her Hips
after reading Lucille Clifton’s “Homage to My Hips”

my hips are big hips,
Jane calls right out.
i’m gonna show how
they are keeping me bold
these hips. everyone
watch me now —
regard the way i move.
these hips are twirling with a smile.
they go where i want to go.
they do what i tell them to.
i raise my voice — i’m proud —
i praise my hips out loud.
soon they will spin
me out of here,
bring my man back back home.


Ruth D. HandelRuth D. Handel is a poet, writer and teacher. She is the author of No Border is Perennial (Dos Madres Press,2015), Tugboat Warrior (Dos Madres Press, 2013) and Reading The White Spaces (Finishing Line Press, 2009). Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including Common Ground Review, Westchester Review, en(compass), The Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Let The Poets Speak, Controlled Burn, Clockwise Cat, Contemporary Hiabun Online, Evening Street Review, and the award-winning A Slant of Light: Women Poets of the Hudson Valley (Codhill Press, 2013). Ruth teaches poetry courses and workshops in poetry writing, gives poetry performances, and manages the Poetry Caravan, a volunteer organization of 30 poets who bring poetry to the community.

In her professional career, Ruth developed the field of family literacy; her academic publications include Building Family Literacy in an Urban Community (Teachers College Press, 1999). She is professor emerita, Montclair State University, where she taught literature and literacy and integrated poetry into the teacher education curriculum.

Additional information

Weight 8 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in