Thursday, December 21, 2006

Body Language: Poems of the Medical Training Experience. Edited by Neeta Jain, Dagan Coppock, Stephanie Brown Clark. (BOA Anthology Series No. 2)
Rochester, NY 2006 $22

In the introduction to: “Body Language,” Poems of the Medical Training Experience,” Jack Coulehan writes: “In ‘Body Language’, the editors have chosen poems that evoke the entire spectrum of medical education, beginning with medical school and residency training, and ending with full medical citizenship, as an attending physician…The book’s medical education framework provides the reader with an in-depth history of the conflict( and ultimately dynamic tension) between tenderness and steadiness in medical practice.”

This is poetry with a bedside manner. We are so often confronted with overworked doctors with huge caseloads that we find there is very little time for human contact, much less clinical. But if these doctors are any indication of the crop out there; then the medical profession still has a healthy population of sensitive and feeling beings.

There is a lot of excellent poetry to recommend this anthology. Kelly Jean White, a major presence on the small press poetry scene for years and an internet acquaintance of mine, has a number of fine pieces between the covers.
In her poem “Pandora” the poet deals with the Pandora’s Box of a hidden cancer in a 56 year old man she encountered while training at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. White, true to form, laces her work with striking imagery:

“I bring him a coloring book picture
that shows him this thing, this unfamiliar
organ that melted beneath our hands
at dissection:

Leaving his room, crying,
avoiding classmates,
I take the back stairs.
I find myself locked,
coatless in the courtyard outside.”

My wife, the poet Dianne Robitaille, is also a Registered Nurse (who worked at MGH years ago) loved the poem “Foley,” by Mindy Shah. I had to concur; probably for different reasons. Shah follows of all things—a man’s penis—from its salad days to its undignified decline:

“As a kid you pissed
your name in the snow; at sixteen
you showed it to a girl
for the first time, face damp
and flushed. Now wires
thread your body.
I pull your old penis
from the fat seat of your thigh
and hold tight
as the catheter slides in to let
the blood and urine out,
tubing taped to your leg.
your glorious moment passed—
my first one.

Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update/Somerville, Mass/Dec 2006

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