Jeanne Bryner


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Smoke: Poems

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Aug-15-2012
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This powerful collection by nurse-poet Jeanne Bryner addresses several themes.  She tells very difficult child abuse stories in the voices of children and health care professionals.  Nursing stories emerge from experiences on the surgical floor, in the ICU, labor and delivery, ER, etc.  In one poem nurses take a political stand for healthcare reform; in another the nurse helps a patient die; in another she listens to a patient describe how he endured the colonoscopy prep in his bathroom, then took his shotgun and blasted the plastic jug "to Kingdom Come.  That, he said, felt like justice." A whole section of the collection is devoted to writing workshops the nurse-poet led with cancer survivors, assisted living residents, former patients.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Tenderly Lift Me is the latest publication from Kent State University Press in the Literature and Medicine series edited by Martin Kohn and Carol Donley. Not all the 39 caregivers Bryner honors through poetry, biographical sketches and photos are nurses, but all have discharged their caregiving duties as the title indicates: tenderly. The book opens with a preface by Bryner who wants "people to care about nurses the way nurses care about people who are total strangers" (p.xii). A literate and insightful introduction by Suzanne Poirier and Rosemary Field follows.

The book, divided into eight parts, contains biographical sketches and interviews with nurses or tender caregivers, their photographs, and poems by Bryner in which she speaks in the voices of the individual nurses, celebrating but never sentimentalizing their stories.

Some of the nurses are daughters of blue-collar workers: Carol Johnson (p. 77) went on to become a cardiothoracic nurse practitioner, harvesting veins for open heart surgeries. Helen Albert (p. 52), the granddaughter of a slave, became "the first black registered nurse hired in Warren, Ohio." The nurses celebrated are both living and dead; some are aged, this book the only vessel that might hold their histories. All the caregivers, like Father Damien, born in 1840, caretaker to a colony of lepers in Molokai, come alive in Bryner's prose and poems, speaking to us in image and metaphor as well as fact and biography.

There are journal entries from Kate Cumming, who cared for confederate soldiers during the Civil War (p. 151), and comments from contemporary nurses, like Sylvia Engelhardt, one of the first nurses to graduate from an associate degree program and feel the "sting of labels" (p. 69), or Theresa Marcotte Kokrak (p. 46) who remembers traveling though Canada's seventy-below wind-chill to report to duty. Bryner celebrates the nurses' accomplishments as well as the daily events, the doubts and frustrations, the dark moments that these nurses have overcome in order to care for others, nurses who are "human, and sometimes a little heroic, but not from heaven" (P. xii).

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Eclipse

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Nov-20-2003
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Poet and writer Jeanne Bryner has assembled 24 short stories to give us Eclipse, a wise and tender collection that reflects her blue-collar roots in Appalachia and industrial Ohio, and also her work as a registered nurse. These stories are about real human beings, flawed and graced, who, for the most part, care for one another, whether family or stranger, with compassion and the kind of acceptance that comes from living a hard life. Bryner's writing skills move these characters beyond easy stereotype and turn their actions--their anger over the death of a loved one or the cooking of a Sunday supper--into transformative metaphors that illuminate the sorrows and joys of everyday life.

The following stories might be of particular interest to those teaching or studying literature and medicine: "Sara's Daughters," in which a woman undergoes artificial insemination and, through her thoughts and her conversations with the nurse, perfectly reveals an infertile woman's humiliation, longing, and hope; "The Jaws of Life," in which a young woman takes her Aunt Mavis to visit Uncle Webster in a nursing home and there observes the poignant interactions of the well and the dying, the young and the old, moments infused with both charity and dread.

In addition: "Turn the Radio to a Gospel Station," in which two cleaning ladies in a hospital ER observe and philosophize about what goes on around them, the deaths and near-deaths, the kindness or mutinies of nurses, the doctors' mechanical repetition of questions, the lovers hiding in the linen closet; "The Gemini Sisters," in which a group of weight-watching women meet to shed pounds and talk about life; "Foxglove Canyon," in which a registered nurse with forty year's experience relates memories of her work, her family, and how things change when a writer comes to teach the staff and the patients about poetry, "the flower you stumble across growing near the barn, a purple bloom that nobody planted."

"Red Corvette" examines the intimacy that develops between family members, particularly when one is caregiver to the other. In this story a woman comes to visit her post-op sister and remembers, while watching her sister suffer in pain, their childhood, those moments of freedom and health she yearns for her sister to regain.

"The Feel of Flannel" is about a woman who, like her mother and grandmother, has breast cancer. She refuses to participate in a research project but instead barrels ahead into her uncertain future, planning to wear her nightgown to the grocery store and tattoo her husband's name "right here when this port comes out."

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Breathless

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Oct-18-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The 18 poems in this chapbook (26 pages) focus on caring relationships, especially between nurse and patient. In "Standing There" the poet admits that "our history isn't an album of healers." There is little to be triumphant about in the world of nursing and medicine: "Our story is how we did not break / and run--no matter how close / the lightning gouged." In "Blue Lace Socks" she evokes a nurse beside the bed of a dying child, "listening for the whisper of her blood pressure."

"Butterfly," a poem about caring for young men with AIDS, is characterized by honesty and sensitivity: "They cough as I enter their room, / and something in me stiffens." Yet, the nurse is able to close the gap between herself and the patients and demonstrate her care: "they are migrating back to the cocoon, / the place where brown masks / protect the unbeautiful." Some of the other poems deal just as sensitively with the explosive topics of childhood sexual abuse ("Taste of Tin") and rape ("This Red Oozing"). Blue Lace Socks", Butterfly, and This Red Oozing have been annotated in this database.

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Blue Lace Socks

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Oct-18-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A nurse works at the bed of a child who is an accident victim: "She is not yet dead." Even though they are about to transport the child by helicopter, there is no question that she will die. The poet brings the reader into the immediacy of the moment in which she is listening to "the whisper of her blood pressure" and the "Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump." of the helicopter's blades. There is no way, though, to reach the child: " . . . I want to put / my arms around her, / tell her we are all terribly sorry for this . . . . "

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Butterfly

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Oct-18-1999
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The nurse reflects on the men in the room with "B" for "blood hazard" on their door. They are too weak to make love, but they still take care of one another: "as they press cool cloths to foreheads, / pass tissues for sticky green phlegm." Being only human, when she enters their room and they cough, she confesses that "something inside me stiffens." Yet she sees them as "half a butterfly on gray cement . . . . " She cares and she wants them to know that she cares, these men who "are migrating back to the cocoon, / the place where brown masks / protect the unbeautiful.

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This Red Oozing

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Mar-24-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The hostess at Benny's Lounge comes to the Emergency Room after being raped at gunpoint by "a friend of a friend." The doctor makes her tell the story of the rape again: "How tight he holds the muzzle to your neck, / jerks your dark hair like a mane and rips / you until you bleed . . . . " But the poet knows that "this red oozing" will not fill the rapist. It never does. She knows "how he rapes you / endlessly . . . How his boots climb the back stairs / of your mind year after year / as he comes and comes and comes."

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