Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks

Q & A with Marc Straus

Question: Where is your work published?


“A lot of places. Soon after I started having a lot of medical articles published, I tried to sort out what I thought the best journals were. I was good at that and so I sent out a bunch of poems in envelopes to Kenyon Review, Ploughshares. Didn’t get an answer. So I told a poet friend of mine, ‘Is this how it goes when they hate your stuff–they don’t bother to turn you down?’ He said, ‘Did you send them a self-addressed stamped envelope?’ I said, ‘Why would I do that?’ Well the deal is, in poetry, without giving them the stamp, you don’t get an answer.–Of course you don’t have to do that–thank goodness–in medicine. ”
“I was very lucky that a large amount of the work was accepted. One of the things I didn’t know for awhile is, unlike the New England Journal of Medicine, which last I heard takes about eleven percent of submissions, Kenyon Review takes under a quarter percent. Poetry takes under a quarter percent and when you send it in, there’s no peer review –they know your name or in my case they didn’t know my name. So it’s a completely different system. Some of the best journals maybe reach one or two thousand people and a best seller in poetry would be a journal that has three thousand or more readers. It’s an interesting system.”

“There ‘s surprisingly way more interest in poetry in the last ten or twenty years. So, I’m lazy at it. When I can, I put a bunch of envelopes together, put in a self-addressed stamped envelope and then wait for the response. They will almost never critique the work. It’s a very tough system–very tough. A lot of [my] work has been published; my two collections have been published by Northwestern University Press. I think I have another collection ready to go.”

Question: I was wondering whether you show your poems to your patients?


“Patients? Ouch! I don’t, and I’m not a shy person. It’s like this other side of me and I almost kept it away purposely. Then I was surprised once about seven or eight years ago. I was giving a breast cancer lecture in a V.F. A. hall–a Veteran’s of Foreign War hall-to the women who belonged. So way up in Putnam County there was this whole group of women who came and listened to my nice breast cancer lecture and at the end one of them said, ‘Dr. Straus, would you read us a poem?’, and I said ‘No, I don’t think . . . ,’ She says, ‘Come on, we all know you’re a poet.’ ”

“It kind of broke the ice, and then I read in a medical school graduation, and in many medical schools. I’ve always underestimated audiences but I think all my patients know, and I find it hard to put this material in front of them. I think that if they get to it, how they use it would be private and personal–and I almost don’t want confusion in that relationship I have with them. working with them and making decisions with them as an oncologist. I was asked just recently to lecture on poetry and dealing with patients and that’s a question they all ask–do I review this with patients–but I don’t.”

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