The writer opens the volume by discussing the ways in which the poetry created by the affected person differs from the narrative form of describing the experience of illness—the classic “pathography.”  The essays in the collection demonstrate, by using examples, some of the unique qualities of the poem as an alternative to a prose narrative progression as well as the ambiguities introduced by the language of poetry. The discussions of the poetry presented provide the reader with guidance to the acceptance of poems in their “own terms” in order to understand the poet’s internal sense of the meaning of illness.  By allowing new and different information to become available for consideration the careful reader may gain new insights into the lives of those who are ill or disabled.


Prominent, although not exclusive, among the illnesses/disabilities represented is cancer and its various forms of treatment and diagnostic procedures—tagged as “outrageous intimacies” (McEntyre, 46). Among the issues addressed are pain, fear, isolation, grief, and anticipating death while maintaining a semblance of normal life.

Woven throughout the poems presented and the language chosen by their writers are McEntyre’s cues for helping the reader of illness poetry move into this variant of the more familiar narrative form of studying “illness from inside out.”  This viewpoint utilizing the language and nuance of poetry provides yet another way of expressing the symptoms of “unwellness” and may, in addition to enlarging the body of literature pertinent to this topic, enhance the understanding sought by those who know and care for the afflicted.


University of California Medical Humanities Press

Place Published

San Francisco, CA



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