Editor Chip Spann created this anthology as part of his Ph.D. dissertation in creative writing. The poems were selected because Spann hopes they "can be a comfort to the sick and a rabble-rouser for those who work at getting well" (5). The book’s 234 poems have been organized into seven sections, each section named with a phrase from one of the poems contained therein. Each section is prefaced by an introduction that focuses on Spann’s own journey from a difficult childhood and unanchored young adulthood to his current life in which he is able to combine a love of reading and writing poetry with his background of working with patients in a variety of settings -- he leads a writing group of patients, caregivers, and health professionals at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, California.

The seven sections concern: the body; illness and life’s journey as quest; "feelings that are screaming to get out"; looking inward at dark truths; reflecting on "early wounds"; finding creative inspiration from unexpected and small things; and "perspectives on death and aging." I counted approximately 80 poets who are represented in this anthology; those with the greatest representation (number of poems) are Raymond Carver, Lucille Clifton, Emily Dickinson, Grace Paley, Muriel Rukeyser, Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, May Sarton, William Stafford, and May Swenson.


This anthology is a welcome addition to the field of literature and medicine. It does not duplicate, except occasionally, physician Jon Mukand’s anthology, Articulations (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1994). A wide range of poets is represented, including many foreign writers whose works exist in English translation (for example, Anna Andreevna Akhmatova, Nazim Hikmet, Leopold Staff, Adam Zagajewski, and several Irish poets); poems from another age (in spite of the subtitle of the book) such as a 15th century Bengali poet, Kabir; and poets I was happy to be introduced to, such as Ellen Bass and Etheridge Knight.

In addition, the book contains several outstanding poems useful for teaching and helpful to have in one place, such as "Question" by May Swenson (see annotation of Swenson's Nature: Poems Old and New), "The Portrait" by Stanley Kunitz, "Drum" by Langston Hughes, and "Talking to Grief " by Denise Levertov. Noteworthy also, is the very small number (3) of physician-poets or nurse-poets--presumably because Spann is particularly interested in patient perspectives. (For physicians’ perspectives, see the poetry anthology, Blood and Bone: Poems by Physicians, edited by Angela Belli and Jack Coulehan; and for nurse perspectives, see the anthologies, Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses and Intensive Care, both edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer).

Poet Healer is well indexed (by author/translator and by poem title). I found it useful to first read the book more or less from cover to cover--to get a sense of how Spann’s project ties into his own life story and the role that poetry has played in that life. Not clear, however, is how Spann uses these poems in his writing workshop; he says only that "[p]rompts or exercises are given and the group writes for ten minutes without regard to spelling or grammar" (3).


Books made to order on demand; limited edition. To order, or for more information, contact: Sutter’s LAMP, Sutter Resource Library, Suite 600, 2800 L. Street, Sacramento, CA 95816; phone: (916) 454-6802.


Sutter's LAMP

Place Published

Sacramento, Calif.




Chip Spann

Page Count