As Though Praying: Poems from Decatur Island

Wright, John

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-10-2003


This small collection opens with a quotation from Mary Oliver's poem, "The Journey": "And there was a new voice / which you slowly / recognized as your own . . . " These poems reveal a new voice, which in John Wright's case, is perhaps heard best in his pastoral retreat on Decatur Island, one of the smaller San Juan Islands of Puget Sound.

Most of the poems depict scenes from Decatur; for example, the annual community sheep shearing ("The Shepherds"); a glimpse of a young girl crossing a field toward the poet's house carrying "cherry plums" (crab apples, "The Gift"); and a morning spent picking blackberries with his wife in the hills ("The Right Moves").

Other poems arise more purely from the geography of the heart. One of these is called "Praise," in which the poet confesses, "This quiet elation that comes, finally, / At seventy-one . . .

It's something akin to a leaf-bare maple, / Its upraised limbs."


John Wright is a retired physician who began his career as a serious poet around the age of 60. His poems have appeared widely in JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine, and other medical journals; and in an earlier collection, Through an Old Wooden Bowl.

While many medical poets discover their new voices in exploring relationships with patients, or in other aspects of the loud, intrusive world, Wright's voice has drawn more and more from his relationship with nature and the unexpected moment of communion. He describes himself as a "Quaker-Buddhist with a dash of (Ernest) Becker." This book, though it includes no specifically medical poems, is a healing experience to read. As the introductory quotation from Mary Oliver's poem continues, "(your) new voice" is "determined to save/ the only life you could save." These poems can also help save others.


As Though Praying is available from Bluestone Books, Edmonds, WA (


Bluestone Books

Place Published

Edmonds, Wash.

Page Count