“art acting as a medicine”
Brian Maurer, a pediatric practitioner, poet, writer and editor, introduced me to a fine article that looks at the arts and medicine.
Sometimes, there is no need to deconstruct. Poetry has always helped me to understand this world, and I never asked why. It has helped me, as a physician, to understand my patients and I didn’t need to put poetry under a microscope or dissect it. Even so, “The Rise of the Medical Humanities,” a rambling essay, by Belinda Jack, contains flashes of brilliance. Here are excerpts worth mulling overj:
Poetry’s use of language is at the furthest extreme from the self-help book, which is often dogmatic, insistent, reductive, bullying even…Poetry offers its language up to us and if we recognise it as true, we engage; if it fails to convince us of its truth, we let it go. And it allows for an individual engagement with the poem. This explains why funeral services so often include poems, rather than extracts from novels. Each of us can ponder what the poem conjures for us, bringing something felt into clearer and thus more comforting focus. Often the poem will be one that allows us to reconsider the absolute nature of death.
Faced with some of life’s most painful moments poetry can reassure us that we are not alone – other have suffered too. But a great poem also allows us to make sense of feelings that might otherwise be a searing amorphous mass somewhere deep inside us. Great poetry makes us understand the only half-understood; in that understanding comes relief, and it can feel very physical. This is art acting as a medicine.
One of the undersold features of poetry is its remarkable succinctness. The same is not always true of textbooks. And a corollary of this is that it doesn’t take much time to read a poem. But it does have to be read with a particular attention to detail, and that could be a useful training for medical students. You can’t race through a poem – as you might a textbook – looking for what you want to find. So I see the benefits of marrying poetry reading to various aspects of medicine.
The article references the National Association of Poetry Therapy.
Ms. Jack’s essay introduced me to a great poem by C. Day Lewis: Walking Away.