Centaurs, Ligers, Doctor-Poets, and Other Hybrid Breeds
Guest Post by Jenna Le. Jenna Le has worked as a physician in Queens and the Bronx, New York City. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Six Rivers, was published by New York Quarterly Books in August 2011.
I am a poet by night; by day, I am gainfully employed as a physician. By no means does this confluence of traits make me unique. Though you may never have met one, doctor-poets are actually nowhere near as scarce as centaurs, ligers, or other hybrid breeds. William Carlos Williams is perhaps the best-known of our tribe, but our ranks have included many others, dispersed across continents and centuries. Dannie Abse, an aging Welshman with a gloriously musician-like ear, is one celebrated example. And Poetry magazine recently profiled Gottfried Benn, a mid-century German doctor-poet who in his simultaneously gorgeous and repulsive writings reminisced on various cadavers he had autopsied. Benn approaches this difficult subject with the same feelings of disorientation, alienation, and faint disgust that he applies elsewhere to unrelated topics such as modern courtship and European nightlife.
Convention has it that all true poets are La Bohème types, living in dignified poverty, unwilling or unable to hold down a “respectable” job. It is this firsthand knowledge of poverty, you could argue, that gives poets the worldliness that makes them wise. Even more important than firsthand knowledge of poverty, though, is lack of respectability. It is the stereotypical poet’s lack of respectability that puts him at liberty to attack societal institutions with absolute honesty, without fear of reprisals at the workplace or elsewhere.
According to time-honored stereotypes, then, doctor-poets are an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. When I first embarked on my current career path, thoughts like these often kept me awake at night, and it was only mildly comforting to read William Carlos Williams’s thoughts on the matter, as spelled out in Chapter 2 of his Autobiography:
“It was money that finally decided me. I would [be a doctor], for I was determined to be a poet; only medicine, a job I enjoyed, would make it possible for me to live and write as I wanted to. I would marry, have children, and still write, therefore, to write. I would not court disease, live in the slums for the sake of art, give lice a holiday. I would not ‘die for art,’ but live for it! [I would] beat the game and be free…”
When I first read this passage, I wondered, “What kind of freedom does he mean?” In pursuing a medical career at the same time that I am pursuing a literary career, am I purchasing economic freedom at the price of creative freedom? Even now, as I’m on the brink of publishing my first collection of poems, I don’t have a clear answer to this question.
Being a doctor-poet, I think, requires a special brand of recklessless, since the risk of incurring reprisals at the workplace is very real. In interviews, the contemporary doctor-poet Rafael Campo frequently talks about how he has been persecuted at his workplace for writing poems that deal frankly with such taboo topics as homosexuality. And yet, despite the risks involved, Campo courageously persists at what he does, approaching both of his chosen professions with truthfulness, integrity, and even optimism: “I’m hopeful in the end that we’ll have room for all the storytellers in medicine—not just the Nuland’s and Sacks’s and Remen’s, but also those who speak honestly and openly from outside the mainstream.” Time will tell whether Campo’s rosy outlook is prophecy or just wishful thinking.
[Image: Liger at Novosibirsk Zoo, Novosibirsk, Russia. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now
To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.
The future of education and work will rely on teaching students deeper problem-solving skills.
- Asking kids 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' is a question that used to make sense, says Jaime Casap. But it not longer does; the nature of automation and artificial intelligence means future jobs are likely to shift and reform many times over.
- Instead, educators should foster a culture of problem solving. Ask children: What problem do you want to solve? And what talents or passions do you have that can be the avenues by which you solve it?
- "[T]he future of education starts on Monday and then Tuesday and then Wednesday and it's constant and consistent and it's always growing, always improving, and if we create that culture I think that would bring us a long way," Casap says.
These Jurassic predators resorted to cannibalism when hit with hard times, according to a deliciously rare discovery.
- Rare fossil evidence of dinosaur cannibalism among the Allosaurus has been discovered.
- Scientists analyzed dinosaur bones found in the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in western Colorado, paying special attention to bite marks that were present on 2,368 of the bones.
- It's likely that the predatory carnivore only ate their already-dead peers during times when resources were scarce.
As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner.