Tim Metcalfe is an Australian general practitioner who gave up medical practice to become a full-time poet and writer. A statement on the back cover summarizes the process in relation to this collection of 38 poems: " ’Cut to the Word’ is a moving account of one man’s transition from doctor to poet." He begins with the customary initiation: "We were introduced, respectfully, / to the volunteer dead . . . " (p. 13) He discovers the limitations and uncertainties of his new profession: "In tense moments / I wish my stethoscope / was all they want it to be." (p. 18) And the omnivorous demands of medicine: "I come home from work / and there it is: the family / the oldest crying / at the youngest crying / at her mother’s anger / at her crying . . . " (p. 21)

Metcalfe carries the reader through a series of short, incisive poems describing the doctor’s day-to-day work ("Morning Session, " pp. 47-50), as well as through a number of disturbing poems about the world of mental illness, but the book’s climax--so to speak--arrives with "The Doctor’s Complaint, " in which the physician heals herself "by laying down her stethoscope / and walking right out / of that in-patient clinic." At the end the poet writes, "Like a patient I have learned silence . . . Fine steel scissors in hand, / I cut to the word." (p. 63)


This is the third collection of poems by Tim Metcalfe, who lives in the bush of New South Wales and describes himself as a "house-husband" as well as a writer. Metcalf’s poems are uniformly spare, direct, and from the heart. Where some medical poets have a tendency to fall so much in love with their material, they pad their poems with irrelevant detail, or create confusion by trying to insert extraneous feelings; Tim Metcalfe cuts to the chase or, as he says, "cuts to the word." By not striving for deep feeling, he achieves it.



Place Published

Charnwood, Australia



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