Richard Berlin is the author of two poetry chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections.  "Freud on My Couch," Berlin's fourth full-length collection, consists of 46 poems divided into six sections, and a "Notes" section at the end.  As in his previous collections, Berlin writes as a physician, husband, father, friend, lover of music--and as a man who understands that he and his patients share a common and fragile humanity.


Booklist called Berlin "A twenty-first century William Carlos Williams" and indeed, like Williams, Berlin writes about his patients both from the distance of recollection and with the immediacy and intimacy of a hands-on exam.  Berlin's poems contain little surprises, unique language and metaphor.  In "A Curious Kind of Love" (p. 1) two mating Orioles become "a cloud of chatter / and lust."  A lovely image, then the surprise as the narrator compares that courtship to the beginning of treatment--when a psychiatrist and patient embark on their own ritual, becoming "as close to one another as we can be / without having sex."

The poet / doctor's insights about patient care include both the actual and the supernatural, recognizing the moments of transcendence that might occur. A common stethoscope becomes "this antique our pretext to bend over patients / as if we are praying" ("The Stethoscope, p. 7).  Berlin is equally adept at capturing the angst and turmoil that can exist in patient care, especially in medical school or residency. See "First Night On-Call, Coronary Care Unit" (p. 10), "Bingo Fuel" (p. 11), and the section titled "Professional Distance" in the long poem "Characters" (p. 25). 

Readers and poets have much to learn from Berlin, whose just-right endings often explode, waking us up.  See the final four lines of "The Diagnosis" (p.70) and the last five lines of "Listening to Dead Patients" (p.71).

While Berlin writes from the point of view of the caregiver, he is always aware of the invisible line that exists between doctor and patient.  In poems like "It's Always a Brain Tumor" (p. 17) and in poems in sections IV and VI, especially, he reveals the narrator's deep "human-ness."  Berlin tells patients and readers that their caregivers are, finally, like them--vulnerable, fearful, hopeful.


In this brief annotation it's impossible to highlight all the excellent poems in this collection. A few other observations: Berlin has ordered his poems within sections, leading readers through darkness and light with safety.  The "Notes" section at the book's close helpfully explains both medical jargon and offers background information on some of the poems.  Both seasoned caregivers and new, apprehensive students will find these poems enlightening, familiar, satisfying, and encouraging.       


Dos Madres Press, Inc.

Place Published

Loveland, Ohio



Page Count