In the first section of the book ("Rejected Prayers"), Liveson proves that the prayers were not rejected; rather, they resulted in a group of thoughtful and moving poems. These poems speak eloquently of suffering patients, especially the elderly and neurologically compromised; for example, "Jenna," wearing her "diapered dress" (p. 16), "Sonnet to Sarah," who "lets her fingers trace the pattern on the wall," (p. 20), and the patient in "Praxis," whose "smile was rare but even" (p. 21).

These poems also speak passionately of social and historical pain, and of injustice writ large. Some of the most powerful are in the section called "Before the Plaster Sets," with which the book ends: "My First Death" (p. 63), "Holocaust Torah" (p. 66), and "Yom Kippur, 5760--Musaf" (p. 68).

The latter poem is a kind of contemporary re-envisioning of Allen Ginsburg’s 1956 poem "America." Jay Liveson writes, "Yom Kippur, this is serious. We sit here / hoping to somehow tune the engine / or at least check the map." Is tuning the engine enough? Perhaps we are fooling ourselves; much more needs to be done. How can we be content to sit and tune the engine in this unjust world? Perhaps the poem that speaks this theme most eloquently is "Statistical Causes of Traumatic Shock Syndrome in Gaza--Chart VII" (p. 72).


In the Foreword to What Counts, the poet David Shapiro writes, "One always associates words and medicine, and for good reason." I’m sure that David Shapiro’s statement is absolutely true when the "one" he refers to is himself. And I also believe that people ought to associate words with healing. But in contemporary American culture, I’m afraid that most people neither understand, nor care about, the profound relationship of words and healing, and would be appalled to realize that their doctors share the intuitive and metaphorical world of poets.

There is always a symbolic dimension to medical practice, but in American culture this dimension is generally unacknowledged and uncontrolled and, therefore, often does more harm than good. Nonetheless, in this seemingly infertile soil, there appears to be a Renaissance of physician creativity in the arts, especially poetry. Jay Liveson is a good representative of this movement. His work is accessible, articulate, technically proficient, and strongly narrative. Moreover, his poems are infused with a passion far removed from the world of detachment and clinical distance.


Foreword by David Shapiro.



Place Published

Santa Barbara, Calif.



Page Count