Showing 21 - 30 of 60 annotations contributed by Davis, Cortney

Just Breathe Normally

Shumaker, Peggy

Last Updated: Sep-18-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Author and teacher Peggy Shumaker was involved in an unexpected and terrible biking accident.  Out of that accident and her following slow recovery she has crafted a remarkable memoir---one that both examines her interactions with the medical community and her family and charts her return from disability---in short essay-like chapters, individual memories that comprise and inform her life before and after illness.  Reading these gem-like pieces, I could imagine her, in the process of recovery, having time and patience to look back at family, friends, custom and community in order to recreate who she was before and who she would be after her accident.  The longest of these "chapters" is several pages; the shortest, only a few sentences.  There is no table of contents guiding readers through the six sections of this book---and how could there be, as the book itself reflects the healing mind as it searches for continuity in the midst of disruption. 

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The Enemy

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Aug-26-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The poems in physician Rafael Campo's latest collection examine familiar themes: lost homelands, the agonies of patients and providers, local and global abuses, love and betrayal, of both the heart and the body.  In this book, Campo expands these themes, writing of child abuse, war, and the certainties and uncertainties of maturing love.  As in his earlier collections, Campo investigates these themes in poems that are expertly crafted and often in form, as if form might contain this poet's empathic and deeply felt connection to the world.  While Campo has always been a reliable witness, especially to the world of healthcare, in this volume his vision becomes even more incantatory, paradoxical and mature.  The narrator's personal losses and responsibilities expand into the universal, into a world that cries out to us to care, to act, to heal, to notice, to tell, to "realize the human" (92).

Divided into four sections, the first section begins with a poem, "Dialogue with Sun and Poet," dedicated to June Jordan, a deceased activist and poet whose poems once made Campo uncomfortable but now mobilize him to "arise."  Following poems tell of local abuses--an abused woman ("Addressed to Her"), the displacement of memory ("Elsa, Varadero, 1934" and "Night Has Fallen"), the crushing of the spirit ("Personal Mythology") and the reality of evil, evil that calls poets to "refuse nostalgia's reassurance that the way was clear" ("Brief Treatise on the New Millennial Poetics").  This section ends with a translation from Neruda's "Book of Questions," a poem that asks if we are in control and if we are indeed capable of change (22).

In the second section, Campo takes us, in sonnets, through "Eighteen Days in France," another country and yet one in which he is still haunted by melancholy, by both sadness and joy--when one sees clearly one cannot leave behind suffering or the potential for suffering.  These sonnets speak of loss, fear, doubt and death grounded in moments of pure happiness.  

The book's third section, "Toward a Theory of Memory," opens with another masterful Neruda translation, one that speaks of love's convolutions, "just as life is of two minds" (47).  Following are exceptionally beautiful poems that speak of the misuse of love and power ("Granymede, to Zeus") and of the deep joy and deep complications of long-married love (see especially "The Story of Us").

Section Four, "Dawn, New Age," is a collection of laments for human selfishness, for war, for the inevitable passage of time, for the emotional depressions we might lose ourselves in, for the patients we cannot cure.  In "Tuesday Morning," the poet says, "No poet cares / for such deceptions anymore, and words / don't cure" (93).  Perhaps words alone cannot cure, but these poems, intelligent and very often incredibly beautiful, can sustain us and remind us that only human connection, human love might help us survive.

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What Becomes You

Raz, Hilda; Link, Aaron

Last Updated: May-09-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Aaron Raz Link was born a girl, named Sarah, and loved as a daughter. Twenty-nine years later, after inner turmoil, deep thought and relentless examination of how society views gender, Sarah became Aaron, a gay man. This starkly open and moving book describes, in Aaron's words and then in his mother's words, both the costs and the rewards of this journey.

The book is divided into two sections: the longer, beginning section is Aaron's, an intense rendering of what might be called an inner dialogue: Aaron talking to himself about his place in a gendered world; Aaron talking to society about the role of men and women; and Aaron talking to us, the readers, as if we were his close friends, gathered around him as he revealed his life.

The second section belongs to his mother, Hilda Raz. In musing, episodic scenes, she writes about herself as Sarah and then Aaron's mother, about her own work as a poet and editor, and most poignantly about losing her breast to cancer.

On page 86 Aaron says, "A stereotype is a kind of camouflage; the eye finds what it expects to find, and passes over details." Throughout this book we are asked to look at, directly but never sensationally, our bodies' organs, our gender "details," not only as functional anatomy but as symbols of identification.

In both sections, I felt pulled along on this journey, both as someone invited and as someone looking on, an emotional voyeur, and in both sections I observed the unflinching honesty of the authors' revelations. But it in was this final section, the mother's story, that I felt most keenly the love between the two authors. It is this love that becomes the strength of the narrative, the ground on which this incredible story unfolds.

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Diva

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In his third collection, Campo presents visceral poems that grow organically from the body: his own body and the bodies of patients, lovers, family, and friends. He doesn't write about being a gay physician of Cuban background--rather he crafts poems that address pain, love, and memory within a metrical framework so seamlessly that readers might feel they are healing, seeking, and singing alongside him.

Outstanding poems include "Sonnet in the Cuban Way," "The Return," "The Dream of Loving Cuba," "Madonna and Child," "Baby Pictures" (a prose-poem sequence), "A Poet's Education," "The Changing Face of Aids," and "Recognition." Section V, "Lorca," gives us Campo's translations of Federico Garcia Lorca's Sonnets of Dark Love.

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The Man in the Box

Moran, Thomas

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Dr. Robert Weiss passes through the town of Sankt Vero in the Tirol and rents a room from the Lukasser family. During the night, the Lukasser's son, Niki, develops acute appendicitis; the visiting doctor operates right there on the kitchen table, saving the boy's life. Years later, when war rages in Europe, the Jewish doctor returns to Sankt Vero and knocks on the Lukasser's door. He tells of soldiers forcing men, women, and children into railroad cars, and how he himself--he who had saved Niki years before--needs asylum.

To hide Dr. Weiss, Mr. Lukasser boards him up in a small room in the back of the hayloft, a space one meter wide and three meters high. For two years, the doctor exists in this box. Niki and his friend, a blind girl named Sigi, bring Dr. Weiss food once a day and, for ten minutes or so, they stay and talk. Sustained by Niki and Sigi's lives--the stories of their discoveries of sexuality, cruelty, and love--the doctor survives.

Although Sigi is blind, she has the insight to recognize and try to alleviate the doctor's growing depression by encouraging him to tell his own stories. It is through these stories and through the doctor's observation of Sigi and Niki's blossoming adolescence and struggles with morality that we experience both the doctor's confinement and the powerful conflicts and transformations that rage behind the doors of Sankt Vero.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Collection (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

Veneta Masson’s wonderful collection contains 56 "entries," essays, poems, fragments, and articles about her work as a nurse in an inner-city clinic. Her story is offered not as a neat beginning to end narrative, but as a pastiche of observations that range from commentary on how doctors and nurses approach caregiving, to a poem about Maggie Jones, a patient who changed Masson’s life.

As she follows the growth of the clinic and muses about the professionals and patients who give it life, Masson also talks about nursing: how it was, how it is, and why it’s such an important, and sometimes difficult to define, vocation. Some entries were contributed by Masson’s colleagues, Jim Hall, Teresa Acquaviva, Sharon Baskerville and Katrina Gibbons, but the best are Masson’s own.

This book should be required reading for nursing students, especially entries, "Nurses and Doctors as Healers," A Case for Doctoring Nursing," "Pushing the Outside of the Envelope," "If New Graduates Went to the Community First," "A Good Nurse," "Nursing the Charts," "Tools of the Trade," "Bring Back Big Nurse," "A Ready Answer," "Mindset," "Seven Keys to Nursing," and "Prescriptive Ambivalence." This book, especially for the essays "Nurses and Doctors as Healers," "A Case for Doctoring Nursing," "Prescriptive Ambivalence," and "If New Graduates Went to the Community First," should also be slipped into every medical student’s pocket.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

David Rosen and Joel Weishaus are long-time friends, the former a psychiatrist, the latter a poet, teacher, and literary critic. Both authors have lived and traveled in Japan, and both are enamored of the haiku form. In this book, Rosen and Weishaus carry on the "renga" tradition of writing haiku as part of an on-going conversation, a call and response of commentary and haiku. Grouped into 53 two-page chapters, such as "Feeling Death," "Learning to Bow," "Eating," "Mother Ill, Mother Dead," "Tuscany," and "Turtle Wisdom," this conversation is enriched by the black and white illustrations of Arthur Okamura.

The comments and haiku range widely and deeply, reflecting the authors’ recognition of the possibility and need for healing, not only in human relationships but also with Nature. In part, this conversation is the authors’ quest to understand the "psychology, meaning, and healing value" of haiku (1), and to explore how poems might lead not necessarily to cure but to "becoming whole" (5).

The commentaries are open and transparent, interwoven as one poet picks up a word or image in his friend’s haiku and extends it, turning it over both in commentary and verse-for example, see the chapter "In the Flow" where the last line of Rosen’s haiku, "A river streaming back toward the sun," is used as the first line of Weishaus’s responsive commentary, one that transports the discussion from Japan to Africa (82-83). Often movingly honest, the poets discuss loneliness and death, their insights reflected in artist Okamura’s stark ink swirls (8-15). They examine their relationships with their fathers ("making Peace with One’s Father," 44-45), and they don’t shrink from humor ("Learning to bow," 34-35) or from sensuality ("Anima," 86-87). Their spiritual references range widely, from the Hebrew God to the Buddhist’s tribute to Nature (70-71).

The haiku are lovely, both strong and delicate, our appreciation of them enhanced by a review of haiku’s traditions in the Preface (1-5). Rather than try to describe the haiku (because, like all good haiku, these cannot be captured or retold and remain the same), I’ll present one haiku from each poet and hope readers will be compelled to seek out the book and read further.

David Rosen, on walking near his apartment in Mukaijima (40): Shimmering paddy-- / The slap of small feet nearing / Where dragonflies hover. Joel Weishaus, on September 11, 2002 (103): Sluggish creek-- / A shadow dips / And drinks.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Art with Commentary

Summary:

According to the author's introduction, the most "beautiful and informative images of nursing are found on picture postcards" (xi). He has gathered over 580 full--color postcard images of nursing from 65 nations, documenting nurses' work in peace and war time and documenting, often in breathtakingly lovely images, an important part of nursing's history. Postcards from the years 1893 to 2002 (many of these from the "golden age of postcards," 1907 through World War I) follow nurses from factories to flu wards, from battlefields to mission welfare clinics.

The author has divided his book into seven chapters: "Symbols of Care," "Twentieth--Century Postcard Art," "As Advertised: The Nurse on the Advertising Postcard," "Portraits," "War!" "An American Photo Postcard Album," and "Parade of Nations." Each chapter begins with an intelligent, fascinating explanatory essay by the author, and each chapter ends with copious notes revealing the origins and stories behind the postcards. The book has an extensive bibliography and is well indexed.

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Medicine Stone

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: Aug-31-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Jack Coulehan’s fourth poetry collection brings together new and previously published poems in a well-organized and handsome volume. As a reader who has long followed this author’s career, I found some of my favorite poems here (Irene, "Lima Beans," "For Oysters Only," "Six Prescriptions," "Sir William Osler Remembers His Call on Walt Whitman," "Cholera," and Medicine Stone) as well as compelling newer work: "The Shoe," "Work Rounds: On Lines by Tomas Transtromer," "Definitions," and "Decatur in Winter."

The collection is divided into three sections: the first presents poems about "doctoring" and, a Coulehan trademark, poems from a patient’s point of view; the second is a remarkable assembly of Coulehan’s poetic commentaries on Chekhov’s life and writing; the third features poems about a variety of personal relationships.

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Mom's Cancer

Fies, Brian

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

This extraordinary graphic work began its life as a Web comic, posted anonymously, tracing in image and word the story of a son, his sisters and their mother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, metastatic from her lung.  This comic caught on, and news of it was passed by email and link from reader to reader. About a year later, the author, Brian Fies, was presented the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. The entire sequence has now been published in a small, wonderful hardback book that will fit into a lab coat pocket.
 
Fies has managed to capture, in word and graphic panels, the thousand emotions and moments that swirl about a family when cancer changes their lives. He shows us the small, personal gestures and thoughts that we look back upon--how he "didn't lose any sleep" (3) when his mom first fell ill; how his mother both denied the severity of her illness and, at the same time, fell into the abyss of medical examination, radiation, chemotherapy; how he and his sisters assumed various roles in their mother's care and, soon, morphed into "superpowers," each defending his or her own territory (41-44).

Most amazing is how Fies exposes, in honest and poignant visuals, the many points of view of illness--his mother's, his siblings', his own, even the physicians'. His portrayal of how the medical system both confuses, abandons and supports his mother is alone worth the price of the book (39-40). We watch his mother, through his "cartoons," as she moves deeper and deeper into the world of illness, and we see the author's own anger in response to this loss.

He lashes out at smokers (pp 55-56), perfectly portrays the ever-smiling doctor (48-49), captures the odd suspension of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) (68-70), and lets us walk the tightrope of treatment alongside his mother (59-61). He also cleverly interweaves the back-story of his mother's youth, marriage and divorce, his childhood, and a vignette of the sickness and death of a favorite uncle, one whose dying prophesy impacted Fies's life (73-77). The moment when his mother truly understands the severity of her prognosis (94) is stunning.

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