Practice is Richard Berlin’s third book of poetry (two of which are chapbooks) in addition to two prose books. It contains 64 poems and is fronted by an essay, “Why Doctors Need Poetry”. A few pages of notes at the end helpfully explain the context for 15 of the poems. As Dr. Berlin explains at the beginning of his opening essay: “Most of the poems in this volume first appeared in my column, ‘Poetry of the Times,’ a feature of Psychiatric Times”, which, at the time of publication of this volume he had been writing for 16 years. This—and many more poems in other journals, anthologies, and books— all from a man who began writing poetry in “mid-life”. Evident in the poems in this collection is a person experiencing much more than medical/psychiatric practice, but a full cornucopia of life: his love of art, music, food, nature, and the people he shares this bounty with. The collection, presented in three sections, weaves through all of these rich encounters, with only the final section, the shortest of the three, having more of a focus on family, friends and late of the year poems.


 “Cuz Rich” (we discovered a distant cousinship probably through marriage a number of years ago) quotes William Carlos Williams-- “If it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem”--to end his opening essay. I couldn’t agree more in regard to this fine collection. Perceptive is an understatement—perhaps capacious better captures Rich’s ability to fully see the world and its inhabitants, and then, as word-crafter send the world to us full bore as poetry. He touches so much, deftly and deeply. In “Suicide Rates”, an ekphrastic poem, he transforms a colorful graph of suicide rates into “yellow foothills in the foreground for black women,/ taller green slopes for their white sisters,/… In the distance,/sharp blue peaks of white men tower over/the landscape, majestic as the Tetons at twilight,” (p. 19). In “Lazy Birder” the speaker confesses to rising late but “not caring if I miss a few warblers/ flying home for summer”, and remembers that he also was a lazy med-student who “hated to see sunrise/before surgery rounds, didn’t choose/ to stay awake all night to learn/ the differential diagnosis for belly pain./ But I was never lazy with my love/ for patients and their stories,/ the way they appeared at the ER/ without warning, like the pair/ of cedar waxwings in my apple trees” (p.11). In “Dandelions”, one of a number of poems about his daughter or his wife (both are physicians), the speaker watches a daughter bow, “like a ballerina/ at curtain call to pick a dandelion/ gone to seed, a gray sphere /the color of my winter beard./ And with one breath/ brief as twenty years, she sends/ a thousand possibilities into the wind,/ the empty stalk in her hand/ bleeding milk from the broken end,/ the head shaped like a perfect star”(p.72).


Finalist Brick Road Poetry Prize


Brick Road Poetry Press



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