The Healing Art: A Doctor's Black Bag of Poetry

Rafael Campo, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-393-05727-0
Poet-physician Campo takes a measured approach to the art of medicine in this slim, critical anthology about""the power of language...to promote healing."" In 14 brief essays, Campo recounts his interactions with patients suffering from ailments as diverse as depression and AIDS, and he argues for physicians to adopt a practice of integrative medicine, one in which the demands of the mind and soul are understood to play as important a part as those of the body. His reports of empirical success with poetry treatments--patients who recover from depression, for example, after writing poems about their past--come as welcome and comforting news, from which Campo tries to draw some surprising implications for poetry itself. In an earlier, similar volume The Poetry of Healing (1996), Campo argued that the ordered precision of formal poetry helps the bewildered and ill make sense of a world askew. Here he attacks experimental writing as an inaccessible black hole""disjoined from its primary purpose of conveying sense,"" an Orwellian nightmare designed by a snobby few. Because it gives no pleasure, experimental poetry cannot help the ill. Instead, he writes,""I have chosen to study individual poets who have devoted a substantial portion of their lives' work to the experience of illness."" Yet the poems Campo prints and explicates in these essays--verses by such esteemed poets as Adrienne Rich, Mark Doty, Toi Derricotte, Tory Dent and Miroslav Holub--are not drawn from among their best work, a contradiction that might provoke some readers to speculate that they want more from art than just an over-the-counter cure.
Reviewed on: 08/01/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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