The Poetry of Nursing: Poems and Commentaries of Leading Nurse-Poets

Schaefer, Judy, ed.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems with Commentary)

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol
  • Date of entry: Apr-06-2006
  • Last revised: Jan-08-2007


As editor Judy Schaefer writes in her introduction, this collection provides "the rare opportunity to read both the poem and the poet's commentary." It is somewhat like a good poetry reading, where we get to hear about the events, thoughts, feelings and contexts that have stimulated the poem. Often the writer's commentaries have a richness of their own, complementing the poetry but not necessary to it. Also the commentaries describe some of the writing process the nurse poets go through in creating the poem. The fourteen nurse poets in this volume have all published their work in journals and anthologies, but this is the first collection to include commentaries along with the poems.


Judy Schaefer, along with Cortney Davis and Amy Marie Haddad have been largely responsible for bringing nurse poets to the light. For years doctors were the health care professionals who got published and read, and the nurses seemed to be silenced (or silent), perhaps because they saw so much pain and suffering, which, as Elaine Scarry observed, "resists language" (The Body in Pain). On the other hand, writing poetry can be healing for the nurses, and reading it can be healing for others.

In the last twenty years or so, nurses have been published in anthologies and their own individual collections. Their voices speak of nursing experiences, perspectives, interpretations. This volume is especially rich in its combination of excellent poetry and the writers' comments about it. For example, Amy Haddad writes about her experiences undergoing chemotherapy, where the nurse becomes the patient. Even though she knows what the drugs are, how they work, what her reactions are likely to be, that information does not really help her cope with the nausea and loneliness. What she wants is "a depth of compassion I can collapse in."

As nurse Theodore Deppe points out, "Both nursing and poetry are ways of practicing the art of attention" (54),and the poetry here stimulates the reader's attention as well. For instance, Sandra Bishop Ebner's poem, "Autopsy No 24722," juxtaposes the pathologist's clinical terminology about the corpse with the daughter's emotional memories about her father--same subject, but very different perspectives. This wonderful collection will enlighten anyone who gets into it.


This is No. 7 of the publisher's Literature and Medicine Series. The book won the American Journal of Nursing's Book of the Year Award in the category of public interest and creative works.


Kent State Univ. Press

Place Published

Kent, Ohio




Judy Schaefer

Page Count