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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).
Having fled Corinth because of a fearful prophecy that he would murder his father and wed his mother, the young Oedipus angrily attacks and kills a small band of travelers who refuse to make way for him at a crossroads, a "place where three roads meet." He ultimately journeys to Thebes, a kingdom without a leader and without any hope of freeing itself from the tyranny of the Sphinx. Relying on his "wit alone," Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx and ascends the throne, eventually marrying the widowed queen, Jocasta, and fathering two sons and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
The prosperous and just reign of Oedipus is halted by a devastating outbreak of plague--a pestilence whose only remedy, according to Apollo, is justice for the murder of the murdered Theban king, Laius. An intelligent man and responsible leader, Oedipus launches an investigation, only to discover that he is not the savior of the city but the cause of its destruction. When his true heritage and his terrible crimes of parricide and incest are revealed, Oedipus blinds himself and invites banishment, nobly accepting his fate as "the greatly miserable, the most accursed . . . above all men on earth."
This book includes 28 short stories and 10 vignettes written during the period 1881 through 1887 and published in popular Moscow and St. Petersburg magazines. None were included in the Collected Works published during Chekhov's lifetime, nor in the multiple volume Tales of Chekhov translated into English by Constance Garnett early in the 20th century. Nine of these stories appeared as a set called Intrigues: Nine Stories by Anton Chekhov in The Atlantic Monthly in 1998 (see annotation in this database).
A number of these stories involve medical or health related situations. "Village Doctors" (1882) is a comic tale of two physician's assistants blundering their way through a morning clinic, while the doctor is out hunting with the district police officer. "A Hypnotic Séance" (1883) reveals a hypnotist who, in desperation, pays his subject to simulate a trance and save the show. "At the Pharmacy" (1885) sketches a scene that many readers will recognize, a rigid and unfeeling health care provider (in this case a pharmacist) and a desperate patient. "Intrigues" (1887) presents a puffed-up and paranoid physician who is about to attend an inquiry regarding a medical mistake that he has made.
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.
Most of the thirteen stories in this collection portray interactions among pension guests in a German spa town; a few represent the lives of the town's permanent residents. The minor health problems (mostly digestive ailments, or unspecified "internal complaints") of the guests are not the crux of the plot but rather what gives it its texture. Talk about eating, "internal complaints," sexuality, body image, and pregnancy is the vehicle through which people try to relate.
Most of the stories are about failed communications: between men and women, for example, or between German and English people. Several stories are narrated in the first person by a young Englishwoman whose bodily and marital status (ill? pregnant? married or not?) are pointedly ambiguous.
Two stories represent childbirth from "outsider" perspectives. In "At Lehman's," a virginal serving girl sees her mistress's pregnancy as an "ugly, ugly, ugly" state; later, her sexual explorations with a young man are interrupted by her mistress's screams in labor. In "A Birthday," a man waiting for his wife to give birth focuses on his own suffering rather than hers. "The Child-Who-Was-Tired" follows a child-servant through a day of repeated abuses to body and spirit that culminates in infanticide.
Four ghosts visit the miserly businessman Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. After the apparition of Scrooge's dead business partner Marley, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas As Yet To Come guide Scrooge through his own emotionally charged past, his harsh and loveless present, and his bleak future. The vision of his own headstone and the realization that no one will mourn his death force Scrooge to see the error of his "Bah! Humbug!" attitude toward humanity in general and Christmas in specific.
The primary recipients of Scrooge's moral rebirth are his poor clerk Bob Cratchit and his family, especially the crippled boy Tiny Tim. When Scrooge wakes from his ghostly visitations, he delivers a huge turkey to the Cratchit household and gives Bob a raise. He becomes a "second father" to Tim and reconciles with his own nephew.
Adolescent orphan Nell Trent escapes with her gambling-addicted, mentally infirm grandfather from the villainous "dwarf" Daniel Quilp, to whom the old man, obsessed with making Nell wealthy, has lost his money and his shop. Quilp and a host of other malevolent and benevolent characters track the pair's journey through urban, rural, and industrial England. When the good characters reach the peaceful hamlet where Nell and her grandfather have settled, Nell has just died, soon to be joined by her grief-stricken grandfather.
The action takes place in a mental hospital where Pythagoras is a patient. According to the medical authorities, Pythagoras is a small-time show-biz magician. The patient, however, believes that he is the REAL Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, and mystic. It certainly SEEMS that Pythagoras may have magical powers: when he points to the telephone, it rings; when he raises his hand to the sky, thunder claps.
Dr. Aquillus, the superintendent, has no sympathy with these pranks. The patients believe in his power, but even they sometimes question Pythagoras. For example, in response to the Greek's boast that "I was philosopher, mathematician and magician," one patient says, "You shoulda specialized, buster. You won't get anywhere unless you specialize." At this point Pythagoras responds that it is "difficult to wear both the white coat of science and the magician's purple one. You have to be--very great!" In the end Pythagoras is reduced to Tony Smith and the truth is revealed. Or is it?
The book begins with a "Twenty Question Multiple Choice Self-Help Quiz." Each question is actually a short chapter. For example, the first chapter deals with the "amnesic self" and asks why amnesia is a favorite device in fiction and especially soap operas. Other chapters deal with the nowhere self, the fearful self, the promiscuous self, and so forth.
The second part of the book is an essay on the nature of the self, complete with numerous diagrams and arrows. The third section presents discussions of various manifestations of the self as transcendent, orbiting, exempted, lonely, and demoniac. The last part is called "A Space Odyssey" and is captioned "What to do if there is no man Friday out there and we really are alone?"
Obviously, this summary says virtually nothing about what the book is about. Suffice it to say that Percy brings his playful humor to the central existential question of human meaning and he presents it in the form of a self-help manual.
The 30 year old Anton Chekhov, determined to pay his "debt to medicine," sets off from civilized Russia to investigate the prison colonies on Sakhalin Island, off the east coast of Siberia. (See Chekhov's A Journey to Sakhalin, annotated in this database.) In the poem Chekhov stands at the rail of a steamer on Lake Baikal and downs a jigger of cognac, then smashes the glass on the rocks. "In the months to come / It rang on like the burden of his freedom / To try for the right tone--not tract, not thesis--"
In his attempt "to squeeze / His slave's blood out" (Chekhov was the grandson of serfs), he spent the next several months feverishly documenting the conditions on Sakhalin. Subsequently, he spent several years trying to express his experience in writing.