Archives for posts with tag: Raymond Carver

I have been thinking about this most unique of relationships, partly in the wake of Medicine Unboxed 2013, and also as I am currently writing chapters for a book on Illness and the Arts.

Jonathon Tomlinson has written a very comprehensive and insightful essay on the notion of the ‘patient’ (http://abetternhs.wordpress/2012/04/09/whats-in-a-name/).

Here, I just want to draw attention to words from those who have expressed their experience of the patient-doctor through their poetry.

Firstly, Raymond Carver, who died as a result of lung cancer, and his poem What the Doctor Said:

‘He said it doesn’t look good

he said it looks bad in fact real bad

he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before

I quit counting them…’

Later in the poem:

‘he said I am real sorry he said

I wish I had some other kind of news to give you’

Carver concludes:

‘I just looked at him

for a minute and he looked back and it was then

I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me

something no one else on earth had ever given me

I may even have thanked him habit being so strong’

This is one of my all time favourite poems. It manages to say so much with so few words – the essence of poetry itself – and within 23 short lines the poem delivers such a strong sense of what the sufferer was experiencing at the ‘other side’ of the desk.

Secondly, to another poet who died as a result of cancer, Julia Darling. The anthology The Poetry Cure, which she edited with Cynthia Fuller, contains much to enlighten those who wish to gain insight into the suffering of illness.

In her poem Too Heavy, Darling directly addresses the medical profession:

‘Dear Doctor,

I am writing to complain about these words

you have given me, that I carry in my bag

lymphatic, nodal, progressive, metastatic…’

‘…And then you say

Where are your words Mrs Patient?

What have you done with your words?

Or worse, you give me that dewy look

Poor Mrs Patient has lost all her words, but shush,

don’t upset her, I’ve got spares in the files.

Thank god for files.’

Finally, also from The Poetry Cure, from Carole Satyamurti’s Out-Patients:

‘My turn. He reads my breasts

like braille, finding the lump

I knew was there. This is

the episode I could see coming —

although he’s reassuring,

doesn’t think it’s sinister

but to be quite clear…

He’s taking over,

he’ll be the writer now,

the plot-master,

and I must wait

to read my next instalment.’

The poets say it all.

I have nothing to add.

CQ

Over the past months, well since its inception really, I have received some informal feedback on this blog. The criticisms mainly focus on the title, ‘suffering’, and the content (which hopefully reflects the title…).

For some, I guess the word ‘suffering’ has a penitential connotation. For others, the blog content has a seriousness that weighs heavily on them.

I make no apologies for the blog title or content.

For me, life is wondrously rich and various and unpredictable and complex and enigmatic and contrary.

It is what it is, a heady mix of challenging stuff.

For me also, suffering does not have the negative connotations that it appears to have for others. Suffering is part of the complicated mix of what it means to be alive and living and experiencing.

Today, I thought I would throw a smidge of happiness into this rich mix, given the current climate of ‘Happy New Year’, which has followed swiftly on from ‘Happy Christmas’…

I have chosen two poems.

Firstly, from Raymond Carver’s Happiness:

‘Happiness. It comes on

unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,

any early morning talk about it.’

Secondly, Stephen Dunn’s similarly titled poem, Happiness:

A state you must dare not enter

with hopes of staying,

quicksand in the marshes, and all

the roads leading to a castle

that doesn’t exist.

But there it is, as promised,

with its perfect bridge above

the crocodiles,

and its doors forever open.’

CQ