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Editors Angela Belli, professor of English at St. John’s University in New York, and Jack Coulehan, physician-poet and director of the Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, have selected 100 poems by 32 contemporary physician-poets for this succinct yet meaty anthology. The book is subdivided into four sections, each of which is prefaced by an informative description and highlights of the poems to follow.
Section headings take their names from excerpts of the poems contained therein. There are poems that describe individuals--patients, family members ("from patient one to next"), poems that consider the interface between personal and professional life ("a different picture of me"), poems that "celebrate the learning process" ("in ways that help them see"), and poems in which the poet’s medical training is brought to bear on larger societal issues ("this was the music of our lives").
Several of the poems have been annotated in this database: Abse’s Pathology of Colours (9); Campo’s Towards Curing AIDS (13) and What the Body Told (94); Coulehan’s Anatomy Lesson (97), I’m Gonna Slap Those Doctors (21), The Dynamizer and the Oscilloclast: in memory of Albert Abrams, an American quack (129); Moolten’s Motorcycle Ward (105); Mukand’s Lullaby (33); Stone’s Talking to the Family (79) and Gaudeamus Igitur (109).
Other wonderful poems by these authors are also included in the anthology, e.g. Her Final Show by Rafael Campo, in which the physician tends to a dying drag queen, finally "pronouncing her to no applause" (11); "Lovesickness: a Medieval Text" by Jack Coulehan, wherein the ultimate prescription for this malady is to "prescribe sexual relations, / following which a cure will usually occur" (131); "Madame Butterfly" by David N. Moolten, in which the passengers in a trolley car are jolted out of their cocoons by a deranged screaming woman (142).
Space prohibits descriptions of all 100 poems, but each should be read and savored. Some others are particularly memorable. "Carmelita" by D. A. Feinfeld tells of the physician’s encounter with a feisty tattooed prisoner, who ends up with "a six-inch steel shank" through his chest as the physician labors futiley to save him (23). In "Candor" physician-poet John Graham-Pole struggles with having to tell an eight-year old that he will die from cancer (27). Audrey Shafer writes of a Monday Morning when she makes the transition from the "just-awakened warmth" of her naked little son to tend to the patient whom she will anesthetize "naked under hospital issue / ready to sleep" (72).
In "The Log of Pi" Marc J. Straus muses about being asked "the question / I never knew" that he "pretend[s] not to hear" whose "answer floats on angel’s lips / and is whispered in our ear just once" (113). Richard Donze wants to know why "Vermont Has a Suicide Rate" (132). Vernon Rowe remembers the "hulk of a man" who shriveled away from an abdominal wound and begged, " ’Let me go, Doc,’ / and I did" (44).
The multiple plots of Our Mutual Friend, Dickens's last complete novel, twine around the miser John Harmon's legacy of profitable heaps of refuse ("dust"). Harmon dies and leaves the dustheap operation to his estranged son John, on the condition that he marry Bella Wilfer, a young woman unknown to him. When a body found in the Thames is believed to be the younger Harmon, travelling home to receive his inheritance, the dustheaps descend instead to Harmon's servant Noddy Boffin ("The Golden Dustman").
Boffin and his wife respond to their new status by hiring Silas Wegg, a "literary man with a wooden leg" to teach Boffin to read; arranging to adopt an orphaned toddler from his poor great-grandmother; and bringing the socially ambitious Bella Wilfer into their home, where she is watched and evaluated by John Rokesmith, a mysterious young man employed as Boffin's secretary.
Rokesmith is actually John Harmon, who has survived betrayal and attempted murder and is living incognito so that he can observe Bella. Boffin's negative transformation by his wealth, Bella's moral awakening as she witnesses the changes wealth produces in Boffin and in herself, and the developing love relationship between Rokesmith and Bella form one key sub-plot.
Another is the romance between gentlemanly idler Eugene Wrayburn and Lizzie Hexam, the daughter of the waterman who finds the drowned body. Class differences and the obsessive love and jealousy of schoolmaster Bradley Headstone threaten their relationship, but they are finally married with the help of the crippled dolls' dressmaker Jenny Wren. The smaller plots that interweave these sensation/romance narratives comment on the hypocrisy of fashionable life ("Podsnappery") and the destruction of the family lives of both rich and poor by an industrialized, materialistic society.
Dr. Jonathan Hullah writes a memoir of his life in response to a young reporter who questions him about the death, years ago, of an old Anglican priest during Good Friday services. The tale unfolds of three schoolboy friends in Toronto before the Second World War: Brocky Gilmartin, who becomes a noted professor of literature; Charlie Iredale, who enters the Anglican priesthood; and Hullah himself, who begins as a police surgeon and later becomes a practitioner of his own unusual brand of psychosomatic medicine.
The central image of this story is the sudden death of Father Hobbes, the saintly vicar of St. Aidan's Church. Soon after Hobbes' death, the curate Charlie Iredale leads a movement to declare the elderly priest a saint. This movement is aborted by the bishop and Iredale, his vision crushed, goes on to become an itinerant (and alcoholic) clergyman in rural Ontario.
The central story though is that of Dr. Hullah, the "cunning man" who learns that healing is not just a matter of the body, but also the mind and spirit. He practices a type of "holistic" health care that the Canadian medical authorities find very suspicious. Yet, he is quite successful in his work, serving as physician-of-last-resort for many patients who have not been helped by other doctors.
The "cunning man" is a listener; he seems to stay on the outside, observing carefully, but revealing little of himself. In these memoirs he gradually reveals his rich experience and complex character. Only at the very end, however, does he reveal the true story of Father Hobbes's death.
In 1978, seventeen-year-old Rosemary Mahoney spent her summer as housekeeper for author Lillian Hellman. A great admirer of Hellman's life and writing, Mahoney had applied directly to Hellman for the job, and could hardly believe her good luck in being hired. By the end of her first week of work, however, her mother had to talk her into staying.
Hellman, in her early seventies, was demanding, exacting, infuriating--and frail, nearly blind, forgetful, and lame. As Mahoney tells Hellman's story, she also tells her own, the daughter of a physician father who committed suicide when Mahoney was a child and a schoolteacher mother who was crippled by polio and is an alcoholic.
Summary:A man and a woman sit on a banquette in a restaurant or bar. Although there is no contact between them, the man turns from the woman, looking beyond to the right border of the painting. The woman stares dully before her, her arms slack at her sides. She does not even seem to notice the grass of absinthe that provides the title for the painting.
Another portrayal of growing up poor, female, and Southern, Cavedweller is the story of Delia Byrd's return to Cayro, Georgia, after leaving behind her life in a now defunct but legendary band and a newly dead husband. After packing up her aging Datsun with everything she owned and her ten-year-old daughter Cissy, Delia heads toward Cayro with a vengeance to stay sober and reclaim the two daughters she left behind ten years ago when she fled from their father and abusive husband.
The change in lifestyle was profound, from a glitzy life on the road, credit cards that bought anything whether you could pay for it or not, and around-the-clock drinking, to the life of a hairdresser in Cayro. If Cissy's rage weren't enough to live with, Delia finds that her teenage daughters Amanda and Dede do not forgive and her hometown does not forget how she abandoned her children ten years earlier. The story that unfolds is Delia's painful reunion with her dying ex-husband, her conflicted relationship with her daughters, the company and friendship of women who sustained her and her children, and her search for peace and meaning in her childhood home.
Eleanor Lightbody (Bridget Fonda) and her husband Will (Matthew Broderick) travel to the Battle Creek Sanitarium for the cure. On the train, they meet Charlie Ossining (John Cusak) who hopes to make his fortune in the booming breakfast food industry. The san is run on strict rules of vegetarianism and sexual abstinence by John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins), inventor of the corn flake. Regular enemas, exercises, outings and baths are prescribed, but Will repeatedly breaks the rules and is lured into liaisons with a chlorotic fellow patient and his nurse.
Eventually, he and Eleanor turn to other unconventional treatments, which are not sanctioned by Kellogg, including nudism and sexual stimulation. Meanwhile Charlie joins up with George Kellogg (Dana Carvey), the Doctor's adopted but estranged son, who taunts his father when he is not extorting money from him. George sets the san on fire, but is reconciled with Kellogg during the conflagration when he sobs "Daddy give us a cuddle." The Lightbodys go home to a moderate pursuit of health.
In the fall of 1907, Will and Eleanor Lightbody, a wealthy, neurotic couple from Peterskill, New York travel to Battle Creek, Michigan to immerse themselves in the routine of the famous sanitarium run by corn-flake inventor, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. They meet Charlie Ossining who is seeking his fortune in the fickle market of Battle Creek's breakfast food industry. The Lightbodys have just lost their infant daughter and Eleanor is taking Will to the "san" for the cure. An inveterate meat-eater with a sexual appetite, Will was addicted, first to alcohol, and then, to opium, after his wife spiked his coffee with an off-the-shelf-remedy for drink.
At the sanitarium, they must occupy separate rooms, refrain from sex, and piously eat inflexible non-meat diets. Therapies include five daily enemas, exercises, "radiated" water, and an electrical "sinusoidal bath," which accidentally fries one of the residents. Kellogg is gravely disappointed in Will's inability to toe the "physiologic" line, but he is more deeply disturbed by his adopted son, George, whose chosen life on the street is a perpetual embarrassment.
Worried about his sexual prowess and deprived of his wife, Will becomes obsessed with his beautiful nurse and opts for the stimulation of an electrical belt; equally frustrated and bent on self-starvation, his wife turns to the quack "Dr Spitzvogel" who specializes in nudism and "manipulation of the womb." Brought to their senses by humiliation, Will and Eleanor go home.
Meanwhile, Charlie has joined with George Kellogg and borrowed from Will to keep his business afloat, but he realizes that he has been swindled. He only narrowly escapes jail, during a fiery commotion created by George who is then murdered by his adoptive father.
Mr. Sweet is a neighbor of the narrator, who is initially a little girl summoned with the rest of her siblings whenever Mr. Sweet is threatening to die. The narrator describes how she and her brothers loved Mr. Sweet, despite the fact that he was an indifferent cotton farmer, a frequent drunk, and an inveterate smoker. Somehow the faults of the old man, including his falling-down bouts of drunkenness and his slovenly personal appearance, are not impediments to the devotion he inspires or the affection for him on the part of the narrator and her brothers.
Each time the children are summoned, Mr. Sweet is reputed to be at death's door. "To hell with dying," the narrator's father would say. "These children want Mr. Sweet!" Then the youngsters would leap on the man in bed and begin their miraculous revival. By turns tickling and kissing Mr. Sweet, the neighbor kids manage to revive him time after time. The narrator comes to have faith in her unfailing ability to bring him back to life, and several times the children succeed when the local doctor had given up hope.
Nearly two decades pass, and the narrator is in graduate school when another summons comes. She flies back to the rural South and hastens to the bedside of the old man, now over ninety. But this time, after a brief return to consciousness, Mr. Sweet dies.
Summary:Su, a highly regarded journalist in a southern city, is going through a rocky menopause. In addition, her longtime partnership with her lover, Bettina, is faltering; she is having trouble writing; and she finds herself falling in love with octogenarian Mamie Carter, whose bridge club also metes vigilante justice on perpetrators of domestic violence. Into Su's hectic life appears Sister Gin, a mysterious figure who leaves notes challenging Su's work and sense of herself.