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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Sorry for my absence—I hope to explain by tomorrow night. Coming home from work this afternoon I heard an NPR piece about Dr. Danielle Ofri, an attending physician at Bellevue, author of Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue, and editor of the Bellevue Literary Review. One of her habits is to take five minutes every day to read a poem to the new doctors she's helping to train. A few of them hate it, she says, but adds, "To think about the metaphor in a poem is to really stop and look beneath the surface and see what else lies there. I'm just hoping the experience of doing that is helpful, and also trains (my students) to listen more carefully and listen for the metaphor in what patients talk about."

On air she read a portion of a poem by cardiologist John Stone, modeled on Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno":

For you will look smart and feel ignorant
      and the patient will not know which day it is for you
      and you will pretend to be smart out of ignorance

I thought of all the toolmakers, math teachers, roofers, programmers, masons, sheetrockers, and dishwashers I've worked with who, when they discovered I wrote poems, recited from memory a piece by Frost or Robinson or Kipling or even Robert Service, or by a parent or grandparent or a lover.

Poetry matters in people's lives. But outside the charmed circle of other poets, not if isn't memorable—and I mean word by word. Meter and rhyme help that to happen. They aren't necessary. Consider Christopher Smart and John Stone. But those poems are built on a repeating form you can hear. I want to write poems people will memorize.

But then I think of my brother, who once said to me, "Michael, I don't see how you stand that literature shit. I never liked any of it but Shakespeare."


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