Richard M. Berlin
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- Ratzan, Richard M.
Summary:This is a poem by one physician-poet, Richard M Berlin, a well published psychiatrist in Massachusetts, that celebrates the life and work of another physician-poet, John Stone, and recounts the effects of the latter’s poetry on Dr. Berlin over thirty years. The poem was published twice, once in JAMA in 2006 and again in Psychiatric Times in August 2008, shortly before John Stone died in his sleep of cancer in November.
In a subsequent essay, Berlin discusses this poem and the history of his relationship to Stone and the latter’s poetry. (1)
Summary:Richard Berlin is the author of two poetry chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections. "Freud on My Couch," Berlin's fourth full-length collection, consists of 46 poems divided into six sections, and a "Notes" section at the end. As in his previous collections, Berlin writes as a physician, husband, father, friend, lover of music--and as a man who understands that he and his patients share a common and fragile humanity.
How JFK Killed My Father is a collection of 52 poems by psychiatrist Richard Berlin. The book is divided into five sections--"Learning the Shapes," "Role Models," "Code Blue," "What a Psychiatrist Remembers," and "What I Love"--and these subtitles guide the reader through this physician's poignant journey from medical student to accomplished, and humbled, "healer, priest, turner of textbook pages, searcher, listener, arrogant crow consumed in white" ("If You Ask Me My Name").
Berlin's poems succeed because of strong imagery and the kind of internal "knowing" that only comes when one pays attention to the sights, sounds, and emotional nuances that occur in training, in practice, and in life. A musician as well as a doctor, Berlin sometimes uses jazz as a metaphor: in "Uncle Joe" he writes about "suffering's music" and in "Learning the Shapes" medical students practice examining patients until their fingers are as sensitive as a "blind bluesman" whose fingers can sense the right note "an instant before / touching a tight steel string."
Berlin "gets" the stress of med school and residency just right in "Sunday Parade" and "January Thaw"; as his poems retrace his path from student to practicing psychiatrist, he transmits the deepening of both experience and empathy in the same right-on way: "What I Revealed," "Places We Have Met," "What a Dying Woman Saw," "Transference," "What a Psychiatrist Remembers," "What Makes a Psychiatrist Cry," "Our Medical Marriage," and "What I Love" stand out as examples. The poems in this collection are personal, eloquent, straightforward and well crafted; they move effortlessly between body, mind, and spirit.
A reader could open this collection to any poem and be captivated, but for full impact this collection is best read from beginning to end. Medical students, especially, might welcome this volume as a guide along their way.
(Some of the poems here also appear in Berlin's chapbook, Code Blue, which is annotated in this database.)
In his first chapbook of poems, Richard Berlin, a psychiatrist, writes about his current work with patients ("What a Psychiatrist Remembers," "Rough Air," "Berlin Wall," "Jumpology"), about his experiences on medical wards and as a student ("Anatomy Lab," "Sleight of Hand," "Alzheimer's Unit," "Obstetrics Ward, County Hospital"), about love and family and how medicine sometimes infiltrates even these sanctuaries ("How JFK Killed My Father," "Tools," "Our Medical Marriage") and, most effectively, about the complexities inherent in the role of physician and healer ("What to Call Me," "After Watching Chicago Hope," "Code Blue," "What I Love"). In other poems, he observes the human condition through the veil of medicine ("Hospital Food," "PTSD").
The lure of these poems is Berlin's facility with metaphor; he has a talent for spinning a particular image or observation into revelation. He is also willing to allow puzzlement, doubt, and fear into his poems, effectively conveying both the virtuosity of the teacher and the wonder of the student. Reading this collection, I felt as if the poet was a presence both within the poems and outside of them, like the psychiatrist who must enter the mind of the patient and, at the same time, step back and become a safe guide. It is this double vision that sets his poetry apart.