The Talking Cure is Jack Coulehan’s 11th book, seven of which, including this collection, are books of his poetry. This collection begins with selected works from his six previous books of poetry and continues with a selection of poems in the imagined voice of Chekhov. These sections are followed by previously uncollected poems, and the book ends with 25 new poems reflecting the title of this book--“The Talking Cure”. The poems represent multiple viewpoints—patients, caregivers, family members as they struggle to make sense of the vicissitudes—and unexpected joys—in life. The poems have appeared over the past four decades in medical journals (primarily Annals of Internal Medicine and Journal of the American Medical Association) and in many literary journals including Prairie Schooner and Negative Capability Press. 


I’ve read a lot of Jack’s work over the years and continue to use some of my favorites in my teaching. So I thought I would cruise through this rather long collection until I got to his new works. NO WAY! The cruise quickly became peruse and then became avid reading (and sometimes rereading) his poetry. Even the poem on the dedication page (in memory of his parents, Peg and Lee Coulehan) contains a note I made about his finding with them “communion/in our odd enduring hope.” The communion for me was with some of the my enduring favorites of Jack’s work: “The Six Hundred Pound Man”, “The Man with Stars Inside of Him”, “I’m Gonna Slap Those Doctors”, “All Soul’s Day”, and “The Act of Love” (which portrayed the effect of a gift received by a physician—“stunned out of the ordinary….and heartbroken for no reason” (p.28)—and propelled me to launch a study about patient to physician gift giving). I’m happy to report that Jack’s work remains strong as attested to the small slips of paper in the later pages of this collection with notes or merely marking poems worth going back to: the haunting “Mother and Child, 1943”; or a look at life in one of the many poems capturing Jack’s extensive travel to distant lands, in “Garden of Endurance”, where decomposing Cassia fruit becomes “a mote in the eye of permanence” (p.193). And true to form, Jack ends the collection with a poem about kindness. In “Regarding Kindness”, the speaker, after listening to a friend who missed an opportunity for kindness, remembers a moment of anger he felt toward his needy ailing father. The beginning of redemption comes, however, in communion (and perhaps “odd enduring hope”) as he recalls “when my grandson wraps his arms/around my waist/ an envelope appears/in my rusty mailbox” (p.206).


Jack took the beautiful cover photo. He is currently serving as president of the Board of Trustees of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.


Plain View Press

Place Published

Austin, Texas



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