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David Baxter

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Poetry and Medicine (includes video)
by Rose Bromberg
03/14/2008

There's a special relationship between poetry and medicine, and great value that physicians, other healthcare professionals, and patients could derive from making better use of this art form.

Poetry can sharpen listening, attentiveness, observation, and analytical skills.[1] It can refine the artistic side of medicine: Poetry allows us to express ourselves, fosters creativity, and accepts ambiguity. It enhances empathy, self-awareness, and introspection.[2] Poetry about illness includes addressing not only the symptoms of illness, but the experience, which includes emotions and responses.

We use various ways to share and validate our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual perspectives, commonly through written and spoken language. The way we perceive and use poetry devices, for example, diction, tone, voice, organization/arrangement, meter/rhythm[3]; the interactions and physical and emotional spaces/silences between the healthcare professional and patient or between the poem and reader helps us to define and interpret ourselves and others, and to direct thoughts, feelings, and actions. Communication thus improves. Changing the cadence may influence healing and even outcomes.[4]

The poetic voice orders thoughts and allows for control, clarity, and reflection.[5,6] It shapes our past narrative, and how we may construe our future narrative.[7]

Here's an example of a brief poem I wrote to express relief and provide comfort after an unpleasant medical experience:

SERENITY

White
Water lilies
float
atop the pond;
a petaled quilt
to keep
me
warm.​

Reading poetry lets an audience bear witness[8] and transforms. We create community, which can enhance recovery.[9] We now know that close reading of text and reflective writing contributes to personal and professional self-awareness and effective patient care and management.[10-13] Perhaps it is time to study whether the use of poetry may do the same.

That's my opinion. I'm Rose Bromberg, Resident Poet with the Program in Narrative Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.

References
  1. Irvine C. Close reading: training for attentive listening. Program in Narrative Medicine Workshop(s). College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY. June 9, 2006.
  2. Spiegel M. Reconceptualizing empathy. Program in Narrative Medicine Workshop(s). College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY. June 9, 2006.
  3. Oliver M. A Poetry Handbook. New York: Harcourt, Inc.; 1994.
  4. Penn P. Chronic illness: trauma, language, and writing: breaking the silence. Fam Process. 2001;40:33-52. Abstract
  5. Frank AW. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness and Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1995:108-109.
  6. Reynolds R, Stone J, eds. On Doctoring. New York: Simon & Schuster; 2001:166-172.
  7. DasGupta, S. Narrative humility. Program in Narrative Medicine Workshop(s). College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY. April 21, 2007.
  8. Charon R. Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006:114-116.
  9. Charon R. Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006:197-198.
  10. DasGupta S. Personal illness narratives: using reflective writing to teach empathy. Acad Med. 2004;79:351-356. Abstract
  11. Weinberg K. The physician as patient. J Holistic Healthcare. 2006;3:7-10.
  12. Charon R. Reading, writing, and doctoring: literature and medicine. Am J Med Sci. 2000;319:285-291. Abstract
  13. Shapiro J, Duke A, Boker J, Ahearn CS. Just a spoonful of humanities makes the medicine go down: introducing literature into a family medicine clerkship. Med Educ. 2005;39:605-612. Abstract
 

braveheart

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Ever since I was a teenager, I've written poetry [free verse, I can never get the hang of scanning, despite an English degree!] for therapeutic purposes. Particularly to express in words the alienation that comes about from having been bullied. Before therapy in my life came poetry, and I am grateful for that.
 

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