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.


Berlin has a passion for patients and for the wider world of medicine. Anyone embarking on a career in healthcare would be encouraged and challenged by these poems, and patients might read these poems with gratitude. Berlin's collection pays tribute to the magic of medicine; his doctor-narrator is intelligent, complex, and humble.

Any of these poems could be used in the classroom: for medical students, "What I Love," "Our Medical Marriage," "Anatomy Lab," "After Watching Chicago Hope," "Berlin Wall," and "What to Call Me" might be particularly effective. Students of mental health would find much to discuss in several poems, especially "What a Psychiatrist Remembers" and "Rough Air."

In the fifth stanza of "What I Love," Berlin pays tribute to (among other things) "the sexual charge / so alive in the constant presence of death," a phenomenon that some caregivers find difficult to discuss. This poem is a way into that conversation.


This collection won the Kinloch Rivers Memorial Chapbook Competition in 1999 and was first published in a limited edition by the Poetry Society of South Carolina. It can be ordered from the author at PO Box 114, Richmond, MA 01254. Pages are unnumbered.


Richard M. Berlin

Place Published

Richmond, Mass.