JEALOUS MISTRESS

There is a tradition of doctor-writers that includes such illustrious authors as Arthur Conan Doyle, John Keats, Oliver Goldsmith and others. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) memorably described the tensions inherent in the task of being both a practising doctor and writer: 'Medicine is my lawful wedded wife and literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one I spend the night with the other'.13 It is unclear why anyone writes, or why doctors in particular write, but it is likely that there are aspects of clinical practice that simulate what is required for writing: the capacity for observation of physical mannerisms or abnormalities; for careful recording of social interactions; and participation in human tragedy or positive, uplifting events as an actor in the events. The writings of doctors, particularly their poetry where it deals with medical practice are worthy of study. These poems by doctor-poets often illustrate: the aims of medicine; nostalgia for what has been lost in modern medical practice; the impact or the strain of medicine on doctors; and the insights about life and death from the vantage point of medicine. There are poems by Charles Ingraham (1852-1935), James Matthews (1853-1910), Spencer Free (1856-1938), Dannie Abse (b. 1923), Glenn Colquhoun (b. 1964), Vincent Hanlon, Kirsten Emmott,

Elmer Abear, Ron Charach (b. 1951), Lenrie Peters (b. 1932), and William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).

 
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