Showing 1 - 10 of 65 annotations contributed by Davis, Cortney

Comfort Measures Only

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Nov-26-2018
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Physician Rafael Campo's collection of new and selected poems is a lovely look back (selected poems are from 1994 to 2016) and an exciting look at thirty-one new poems that continue his trademark use of a variety of poetic forms (the title poem "Comfort Measures Only" is a Villanelle, pg 135) and the moving and personal examination of his interactions with patients.   This collection begins with Campo's excellent introductory essay, "Illness as Muse" (pgs 1-9).  

As the essay opens, an audience member tells Campo that his poems are "really depressing." Even Campo's spouse advises him to lighten things up, a counsel I hope the poet never heeds--for it is precisely Campo's unwavering examination of sorrow, regret, death, and despair that set his poems apart from poems that find "butterflies or snowflakes or flowers as more suitable." Campo responds: "Try as I might to take all of this concern to heart . . . I keep finding myself drawn to write about illness" (pg 1).


Campo recalls how singing and praying consoled his grandmother and seemed to lessen her physical ills: "No wonder I have come to believe in the power of the imagination if not to cure, then to heal" (pg 4).  On page five he notes "To write about illness, to heed this terrible muse, is to reject distancing and to embrace empathy, for which there is no reward or claim on greatness other than perhaps the perverse joy of recognizing oneself as being susceptible to the same foibles and neuroses as anyone."  Indeed it is this vulnerability--the ability to see physician and patient on the same plane, as equal players in a moment in time--that has become another hallmark of Campo's poetry.
Selected poems from previously published collections follow the essay: nine poems from "The Other Man Was Me" (1994); eight poems from "What the Body Told" (1997); nine poems from "Diva" (200); five poems from "Landscape with Human Figure" (2002); seven poems from "The Enemy" (2007); and twenty poems from "Alternative Medicine" (2013).  Of these collections, all but "Landscape with Human Figure" and "The Enemy" have been reviewed in the database.

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Sky the Oar

Nigliazzo, Stacy

Last Updated: Oct-16-2018
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

"Sky the Oar," Stacy Nigliazzo's second full-length poetry collection, contains 52 poems in four sections. These poems are gems--and gem-like, each poem has been created by a compression of words into unique forms.  Nigliazzo's poems wander along the page, floating in white space as margins move in and out. In the three "Triptych" poems, pages 36, 46, and 61, Nigliazzo uses an article written in 2015, the report of a woman's murder, as a pale background. By choosing words to highlight, the poet creates spare poems that emerge as commentary on this crime--"Triptych III" offers only 6 highlighted words (pages 61-62). Nigliazzo has abandoned the more common narrative form--long or short lines that tell a story--and instead gives the reader hints, sign posts along the way. These poems are not meant to be read quickly. It is only by pondering them, allowing the imagination and intellect to fill in, so to speak, the white space around the words, that the impact and complexity of these stunning, impressionistic poems becomes evident. 

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The Language of Kindness

Watson, Christie

Last Updated: Aug-21-2018
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Author Christie Watson begins her memoir with these words: "I didn't always want to be a nurse." Indeed, the first several pages of the introduction give witness to Christie's many interests, her career starts and stops, and a peek into what she names her "flightiness," including leaving school at age sixteen to move in with her older boyfriend and his four lodgers (page 5).  Then, still sixteen years old, she begins working with the "Spastics Society" helping to assist disabled adults.  This is the first time she sees nurses in action, and one of them offers Christie a suggestion: "You should do nursing. They give you a grant and somewhere to live" (page 6).  At age seventeen, the author enters nursing school--and like most nursing students, she is "terrified of failure." During her health screening blood draw, Christie faints; a nurse suggests she rethink her career.  But Christie persists, graduates, then spends twenty successful years in nursing.  This memoir--densely written, action packed--is her account of her work especially in the Special-Care baby Unit, in the medical ward, and in Accident and Emergency.  The author brings us as well into the cancer ward, pediatric ICU,  and the geriatric ward, painting vivid portraits of her patients and the many acts of kindness she offers them along the way.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

When poet and writer Amy Nawrocki was nineteen years old, a college student returning home after her freshmen year, she suffered a sudden and mysterious illness.  She was transformed, in an eye-blink, from an active young woman to a bed bound and comatose patient.  "There is nothing to embellish--I got sick, I fell into a deep sleep, I woke up.  No fairy tale" (page 3).  Months of her life went missing: this brief and lovely memoir is her attempt to reconstruct those hours and those experiences.  She begins with reflections on journal entries written before her illness began, giving the reader (and herself) a persona, a personality, a living breathing young woman who already writes, who lives in her head, and who always felt "totally comfortable" in her body (page 3). Then we lose her, as she lost herself.  She re-visions the story of her months of suffering and recovering from encephalitic coma through the various medical records and family memories she gathers in order to reconstruct the missing pieces of her life. "The coma girl has detached herself from me. I have to dream her up or rely on what others saw, eye witnesses who had to detach themselves in a different way" (page 21). Coming back into life after a serious illness is a strange and often prolonged journey.  Nawrocki writes, "Waking up took as long as sleeping" (page 33).  And in this waking up time, she begins to see who she was (or how she looked to others) during those blank months. "The images still frighten me. My face was a mess; hair cropped short, puffed up without styling, ragged, like I just woke up. My eyes seemed empty but weirdly wild" (page 35). During her recovery, the author begins journaling again. "In my college notes, I focused on the art of reflection; after the illness, I wanted mainly to observe" (page 42).  And in recovery, she begins to build memories once again. She lists her recollections during weeks in rehab, and she remembers "the final trip home, a cake decorated with blue and yellow icing waiting for me" (page 45).

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joy: 100 poems

Wiman, Christian

Last Updated: Jun-12-2018
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

"joy: 100 poems," edited by poet and editor Christian Wiman, is a collection of 100 poems that examine, in various ways, the state of consciousness we call "joy."  The poets represented here are for the most part well known, as are many of their poems.  But, happily, there are poems here that seem new, especially when viewed through the lens of "joy." 

A brief list of the poets, chosen at random, includes Galway Kinnell, Donald Hall, Lucille Clifton, Josephine Miles, Sylvia Plath, Richard Wilbur, Sharon Olds, Wallace Stevens, Yehuda Amichai, W.B. Yeats, Stanley Kunitz, and Thom Gunn.  Poems, again chosen at random, include "Plumbing" (Ruth Stone), "Tractor" (Ted Hughes), Laundromat" (Lorine Niedecker), and "Unrelenting Flood" (William Matthews)--titles that at first glance might not suggest "joy."


The book begins with an excellent twenty-eight page introduction by Wiman in which he discusses the various shades of joy we might encounter in our lives, examines closely some of the poems represented, and briefly comments on his selection process. 

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Close But Not Touching

Sands, Jean

Last Updated: Jan-30-2018
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Jean Sands' second full-length poetry collection, "Close But Not Touching," was published a few months after her death in October, 2016.  Sands had been working on this volume for more than a year, a process slowed by debilitating illness.  This collection, like her first book, "Gandy Dancing," is autobiographical, raw, plainly written, and powerful.  Both books deal with sexual abuse, marital abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics, divorce, poverty, and a woman's struggle to survive.  And in Sands' case, to write about that survival.

The 47 poems in "Close But Not Touching" are divided into four sections.  The first examines Sands' childhood.  Her mother, born in Hungary, as a child terrified of German soldiers, is failing. In  the book's opening poem, "When Mother Stopped Remembering," Sands introduces her themes of human rights, sexual and physical abuses, and the need to speak out against them. The poem closes with Sands'  mother forgetting words, growing silent, and giving up books.
"In Germany, they emptied the shelves, /  burned the books, the men, the women, the children." (pp 4-5).  Sands' response to the loss of words, of power, is her poetry.

In "Becoming Helen" (pp 7-9), Sands pays tribute to an older woman writer who became a mentor. "Forty years later the keyboard clicks under my fingers, / unseen hands hover above mine." The specter of sexual abuse is raised in "The Peach Farmer's Daughter" (p 15).  Abused by her father, even after his death the daughter can't forget "his liquor breath, his fingers inside." In other poems in this section, Sands addresses aggression ("Pigs" p 16), loss of innocence ("Plum" p 17), humiliation ("The Music Lesson" p 18), and desire ("Danbury Fair" p 19).

The second section takes a loving and yet brutally forthright look at Sands'  four sons and how her marriages and divorces affected them.  She doesn't spare herself--her poor choices--or the sons' fathers.  Especially strong poems include "Night Sounds," "Suicide," "Swimmer," "The Policeman Is Your Friend," and "Father Poem" (pp 26-30).

The poems in section three chronicle the author's divorce from her abusive second husband, specifically, but also her hard-to-shake feelings of entrapment and helplessness in the face first of childhood sexual abuse and then of marital physical abuse.  In "Car Ride" she writes "I can't do this anymore, // I can't do this, // I can't" (pp 38-39).  Forced from her home by police pounding at her door in the dark, she writes "You set me up / ex-husband with greed on your mind. / Money hungry at anybody's expense but your own" (p 40).  Divorce leads to poverty for the author.  "Divorce Settlement," "Working in a Discount Store after the Divorce,"  and "Saving the Universe" will ring true for many who must struggle for subsistence from day to day (pp 46-48).

Section Four brings this collection full circle, offering hope and resolution.  The author has met another man, a good man.  In poems such as "Rain" (p 60) and "As Evening Comes" (p 64) there is a softening, a willingness to open to this new life and new love.  In perhaps the most moving poem in the collection, "At the Vet's Office" (p 65-66), Sands looks back at her marriages ("The first one was a hitter-- / open palms, threatening fists . . . The second one, worse.  A handsome man / with no past.  I should have known / his clamming up was covering up") and compares her past with her present: "I am overwhelmed with gratitude / for the sweet man who will pick up the cat / and pay the bill without a word" (p 66).   This "sweet man" was married to Sands for more than 25 years, became her writing partner, a father to her four sons, and served as her caretaker through many years of her  illness.

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Mandatory Evacuation Zone

Aull, Felice

Last Updated: Jan-02-2018
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

In "Mandatory Evacuation Zone," Felice Aull has gathered 63 beautifully crafted poems in which she examines the intricacies of language and loss, of grief and healing.  Each of the book's five sections considers these themes in slightly different ways, always in language that is understated, vivid, and exact.  In Section I, we read poems that focus on the author's complicated family history and her early loss of homeland.  In "Tracings" (page 15), an unknown relative (thanks to online genealogy searches) reaches the narrator and wants to meet her.  She, however, only wishes to learn ". . . how my parents / and my infant self / made our tortuous way out . . . . " Brought in infancy from Germany to America, the author suffers the loss of both native homeland and native language ("Notes from an Alpine Vacation" page 16).  She searches photos of her mother and ponders museum note cards illustrated by Holocaust survivors ("Museum Notecards" page 18), imagining what she can't quite know and yet can't quite forget.  

Section II finds the narrator as a young woman in American, awakening to sexuality ("Gay Blades," "Camp Counselors Make Out,"  "On the Staircase" pages 29-31), becoming a wife and mother, and then a grandmother.  A grandchild's birth is both joyful and yet another "slipping toward / the edge of separation" ("Daughter in her Eighth Month" page 37). 

In Section III, the author turns her gaze to observations of the world around her, around us, aware of how many come to loss and death.  "Be prepare to mourn," she tells us in "Disaster in October" (page 49), and in the moving poem, "I Saw the Smoke," re-visions September 11th in words stripped of sentimentality and therefore made more powerful. 

Sections IV and V confront bodily loss through aging and illness, noting how, in so many ways, we try both to capture and to let go: "You snap photo upon photo / hoping to grasp and preserve / what cannot be grasped" (Capturing Alaska" page 66).  We learn of the most personal losses in poems of biopsies, surgeries, and chemotherapy.  When facing the unknown, every event might seem to hold a prediction.  In "Stunning Blows," a doorman stuns a mouse, claims that it's dead.  But the narrator, aware of the wages of time, writes, "But I still see it, like death, / moving toward me" (page 81).  At the book's end, we return to language, how it too can leave us ("Forget That" page 90).  Yet in the collection's final, gentle poems, the poet is "able, finally / to walk past the park's redbud tree / without weeping" ("Immunity" page 96).

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Plaintive Music

Domen, Ron

Last Updated: Dec-05-2017
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Physician Ron Domen's first full-length poetry collection, "Plaintive Music," deserves, and requires, close and attentive reading. In these 47 poems, Domen favors short lines and keen attention to both sound and image.   

The collection begins with the poet's observations of nature, primarily celebratory poems with lush descriptions and musical language, including poetic tributes to  artist Charles Burchfield (pp. 1-6) and to Domen's father (pp.8-9). 

Human life is often considered through the lens of woods and birds, gray slate and rain, naturally occurring elements that lead to memories of family and place ("Wooden Ties" p. 10 and "Cutting Wood with my Son" p. 14). Domen's images, which are rich and exact, often reflect his physician training and experiences.  Consider these lines from "Woodturner" (p. 12).  The poet is working a lathe, shaping a birch log into a bowl until "the white / grain streaked blue and brown / with minerals nursed from the earth / glows like the veined translucent / skin of a newborn child."

The middle section of "Plaintive Music" includes poems that examine the many facets of the poet's experiences as a physician, beginning with the wonderful "Studying Medicine in Guadalajara, Mexico: 1971-1975" (pp 17-22). 

To read this powerful poem is to be there, driving to "the Queen City" five thousand feet high / in the Valley of Altemajac south / of the Tropic of Cancer" (p. 18), witnessing the lack of sophisticated cures ("No oxygen or drugs or IVs / and no machines to shock the heart / back to life only bare hands / pushed on his chest . . . " p. 19), "going door to door / to find the sick" (p. 20), and dissecting corpses pulled from a formaldehyde tank ("and each day scraped / and peeled away more flesh until nothing / was left to dissect and only / the bones remained" p. 22).  

This poem is followed by a long poetic prose statement, "Belated Letter to a Mother," in which the narrator recalls a night thirty years ago when, as an internal medicine resident, he was called upon to care for a battered child and give witness to the complexities of human frailty. Embedded in the letter are a few lines that perfectly describe the role of the caregiver: "That sometimes all we can do is what the poet does-- "to see, to hear, to feel-- and more times than not, it is enough" (p. 25).  

Poems on pages 17-36 especially gain power from the poet-physician's point of view.  Final poems move again into the realm of nature, but here the themes are darker, reflecting the wages of learning to heal:

"I studied in medical school to learn / what actually lies under thick / layers of skin and how the heart / hides behind the breastplate" ("Armadillo" p. 33).  

This collection comes full circle, beginning in "a time when flowers / had thoughts and the hills heard / turtles speak of the brilliant colors / of things growing" ("Beaver Creek" p. 1) and ending in winter, the darkest season, but not without its own beauty: "Snow begins to fall once again / on this windswept knoll along / the Lehigh River where the black // bony trees and dark gravestones / dot the slope of Nisky Hill" ("On Buying Our Gravesite" p. 61).

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How to Visit a Healer

Brown, Jeanette

Last Updated: Sep-08-2017
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In this wonderful short story, author Jeanette Brown describes a woman’s first visit to an alternative medicine healer. The woman has a persistent cough. Unhappy with the "five seconds per visit your doctor lavishes on you after your two-hour wait in his sterile lobby," she has taken her yoga instructor’s advice and made an appointment with a tall, olive-skinned man whose voice is "low and soothing" and whose manner is slow, relaxed, and personal.The woman, whom the healer diagnoses as "the roadrunner, a busy fidgety type," alternates between interest, skepticism and dismay. She cracks jokes; he doesn’t laugh. He recommends diet, exercise, no caffeine, and colon cleansing. She mentally rolls her eyes until, his hands massaging her foot, she feels her stomach lurch, a twinge in her armpit and begins to think of her body as "a human pinball machine." Whenever her self-defensive, rational, traditional beliefs almost propel her off the exam table and into her clothes, the healer "nails" her, reading her personality and her lifestyle exactly.Well into the visit, she realizes she hasn’t coughed once. Then, when she’s the most relaxed, incense wafting, his hands kneading all tensions from her back, her mind registering "this is bliss," her esophagus becomes blocked. Sitting up, she coughs, and the healer confronts her. "You have something to say," he insists, and she counters with "You expect me to believe all this mumbo-jumbo?" He tells her she swallows her feelings, and when she coughs again a "feather? A butterfly?" escapes from her mouth and disappears.When the healer pats her back and asks her to cough once more, she can’t. Taking her hands, he declares her "cured." At the story’s end, still not quite able to admit that this strange physician has helped her, yet knowing that he has, the woman struggles to count out his fifty dollar fee, finally dropping a handful of bills onto his bench, "hoping he won’t be offended by a tip."

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

In 2008, editor and physician Paul Gross launched a new online publication, "Pulse--voices from the heart of medicine" (published by the Department of Family and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center). This anthology contains every poem and first-person narrative published during Pulse's first year, arranged in five sections corresponding to publication date and not to theme: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring.  Paul Gross, in his introduction, states "After more than a decade of practice as a family doctor, I came to appreciate that the science I'd learned in medical school, though powerful and useful, was also incomplete . . . . it contained much truth about illness and healing, but not the whole truth" (xvii).  Like many other caregivers, Gross discovered "that writing and sharing my healthcare stories with others was therapeutic" (xviii).  He looked to "Sun Magazine" as an example of how first person narratives, both prose and poems, could turn "hurts and triumphs into something potentially beautiful, funny or moving" (xviii). 

The poems and prose that arrive every Friday online to Pulse's thousands of subscribers (and the selections in this anthology) are carefully screened by the editors according to these guidelines: the stories have to be first-person, and they have to be true, recounting the writer's own experience.  Submissions are accepted from any person involved in healthcare.  The language used must be "clear, simple language.  No medical jargon. No arcane literary devices" (xx).  Gross and his editors decided that Pulse would not be a medical journal nor a literary magazine--its purpose fell outside the perimeters of both genres--and so Pulse, and this anthology, offers work that is, in a refreshing and honest way, different from the slick or more polished poetry and prose that might be found elsewhere.

In reading this anthology from cover to cover, and so from season to season, I found that the poems and prose seemed to fall into several categories: Personal musings, in which authors relate healthcare experiences that engender intimate and revealing narratives about their own lives--among the best of these are "Well Baby Check," p.3; "Finding Innisfree," p. 31; "First Patient," p. 39; "Losing Tyrek," p. 45; "Carmen's Story," p. 62; and "Chemo? No Thanks," p. 106.  Other pieces are commentaries on the other side of healthcare, the one that cries out for reform and affects both patients and caregivers.  Among the best of these are "Redesigning the Practice of Medicine," p. 9; "A Brush with the Beast," p. 22; "Rx," p. 60; "Halloween Horrors," p. 69; and "Brain Cutting," p. 136.

Other pieces are humorous ("Aunt Helen Sees a Ghost," p. 6) or political ("My War Story," p. 11), and many poems and prose pieces speak of patient encounters or about being a patient, some more anecdotal, relating a specific incident that affected the author ("Once," p. 41) and others multi-layered, some relating medical student or intern experiences ("Jeannie," p. 48; "A View from Nepal," p. 87; "Ripped from the Headlights," p. 90; "Snowscape," p. 97; "First Night Call," p. 100; and "Wounded Messenger," p. 114.)  The "category" I found most interesting and most unique are the selections I will call "confessions."  These writings--demonstrating openess and bravery on the part of the authors--tell of regrets, mistakes, sorrows, wrong calls and other mishaps that occur, daily, in the practice of healthcare.  In these, the most human face of caregiving is revealed.  Although most of the pieces in this anthology contain elements of "confession," the most specifically revealing include "Mothers and Meaning," p. 14; "Physician's Exasperation," p. 44; "Confidential," p. 53; "My Patient, My Friend," p. 73; and "Apologies," p. 104.

Editor's note: Coincidentally, a recent relevant paper on confessional writing by physicians expounds further on this topic:"Bless Me Reader for I Have Sinned: physicians and confessional writing" by Delese Wear and Therese Jones (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Vo. 53, No.2, Spring 2010, pp. 215-30).

 

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