Saturday, February 5, 2011

Doctor and poet

Poetry may not be among today's most prominent art forms (except in popular music). However, poetry is such a part of the human condition, I suspect there are as many people writing today as there ever were, including physician poets.

You may know some of the famous physician poets, such as William Carlos Willaims (Complaint) or John Keats (Ode on a Grecian Urn).

Here is a physician you may know (he practices in Camillus, NY), but you may be surprised to learn about his passion for poetry. Dr. Dave Manfredi is primary care physician with Preventive Medicine Associates, PLLC. His poems have been published in literary and medical journals. One of his poems ("I Come Down in the Morning") was set to music by composer Carter Pann for the Skaneateles Festival (2009).

In “For Zizi” (Voices in Italian Americana), he writes with poignancy about an aged seamstress whose story is implied by the distance between youthful wine making in Sicily and her "life's fulfillment" serving “Dandelion salad to a whole generation of Americans.”

Not surprisingly, Dr. Manfredi writes about health, as well as life and death. He considers personal exercise in “Running” (Rattle) and the experience of disease in “Alzheimer’s” and “Tumor” (both in the Healing Muse).

Doctor Patient” (Healing Muse) is an affectionate dialogue between the physician and noncompliant patient, “a man comfortable with himself” who kindly refuses to modify lifestyle to reduce health risks.
"Cut back on bread, rice, and pasta,” I say.
His eyebrows raise to unimaginable heights.
“How can that be. . . the staff of life?”
The poem “July” opens with this arresting image . . .
It’s 5 PM, late July on my deck
I sit with my brain in my lap . . .

. . . and concludes with an acceptance of mortality:

The greenery stares at me
Like the transient curio that I am
and I wait patiently to decompose
The existential question is important in Dr. Manfredi's poetry. Here is another example, from “The Grave” (Journal of the American Medical Association), where he sees in the beauty of nature a place of repose:
The grass is comforting and soft,
The green in me is oozing forth
Though I lay resting in my clothes
To its embrace I decompose.

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