Poetry In Medicine: An Anthology of Poems About Doctors, Patients, Illness and Healing. Edited by Michael Salcman

For more information about Poetry in Medicine by Michael Salcman, go to http://www.perseabooks.com/detail.php?bookID=115

For more information about Poetry in Medicine by Michael Salcman, go to http://www.perseabooks.com/detail.php?bookID=115

If the doctors cure

then the sun sees it.

If the doctors kill,

then the earth hides it.

—from "Doctors" by Anne Sexton

 

Most of us would not be surprised to learn Anne Sexton had written a poem entitled "Doctors." The confessional poet, who was raised in Weston, MA., was institutionalized throughout her life and often under medical care for depression. But many of us in the medical humanities might be stunned at just how many poets have addressed issues in medicine, as we discover in Poetry In Medicine, an in-depth, beautifully-conceived collection edited by poet and neurosurgeon Michael Salcman.

What makes this collection a pleasure to read—either from the inspiring foreward by poet Michael Collier to the index of poets at the end, or by dipping in and out of its treasures in a random fashion—is that Dr. Salcman has organized it in the most ingenious ways: There are chapters entitled, "The Wisdom of the Body: Anatomy & Physiology," "Contagions, Infections & Fevers," "From The Children's Ward," and "Looking Inside: Procedures, Surgical & Diagnostic." There are also simpler categories, like "Patients" and "Doctors and Other Healers." Work by Shakespeare, Ovid, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ogden Nash, W.B. Yeats, William Wordsworth, e.e. cummings, Elizabeth Bishop and dozens more populate the pages. Each of these writers have written poems that celebrate, anoint, critique, embrace, love or hate doctors, illness, suffering, medicine and healthcare.

Michael Salcman, photo graphed here at a reading in November 2015 at the Columbia University Medical Center to celebrate the literary & fine arts journal, Reflexions, is a poet, neurosurgeon, and art historian, formerly chair of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. He is the author of six medical textbooks and six collections of verse, including The Clock Made of Confetti and The Enemy of Good Is Better.  Dr. Salcman reads the poem, "The Clock Made of Confetti" below.

Michael Salcman, photo graphed here at a reading in November 2015 at the Columbia University Medical Center to celebrate the literary & fine arts journal, Reflexions, is a poet, neurosurgeon, and art historian, formerly chair of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland and president of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore. He is the author of six medical textbooks and six collections of verse, including The Clock Made of Confetti and The Enemy of Good Is Better.  Dr. Salcman reads the poem, "The Clock Made of Confetti" below.

There is Thomas Hardy's "A Wasted Illness," Walt Whitman's "The Wound Dresser" and C. P. Cavafy's "The Bandaged Shoulder" alongside Kate Kimball's "Transfusion" and my particular favorite, "Night Thoughts Over A Sick Child," by Philip Levine, which brought back memories of caring for my feverish son on a long, lonely midnight vigil. We are given topics as specific as "Colonoscopy Sonnet" by Sandra M. Gilbert about a medical procedure being done on the leader of the free world ("On the news tonight, a presidential/colonoscopy...") to more philosophical musings about death from Yeats in "A Friend's Illness":

Sickness brought me this

Thought, in that scale of his:

Why should I be dismayed

Though flame had burned the whole

World, as it were a coal,

Now I have seen it weighed

Against a soul?

Poetry in Medicine achieves many things, the primary one being a pleasurable read for anyone interested in literature. What seems additionally relevant for those involved in healthcare or teaching Narrative Medicine is the tremendous cache of writing Dr. Salcman has amassed that provides us with rich material— for study, for inspiration and for reflection and response.—Donna Bulseco