“Do you know what a poem is, Esther?”


There is an inherent vulnerability in the arts. The way I see it, you really need to open yourself up and lay your soul bare (or maybe I’m being too dramatic?) as an artist. This can be difficult in medicine where there is a certain emotional distancing that can be required at times. So what I keep struggling with is, how do you reconcile these two things?

Sort of in line with these thoughts, I’m reminded of the following excerpt from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar  (this is my favourite part of the book) :

I remember the day he smiled at me and said, ‘Do you know what a poem is, Esther?’

‘No, what?’ I said.

‘A piece of dust.’ And he looked so proud of having thought of this that I just stared at his blond hair and his blue eyes and his white teeth – he had very long, strong white teeth – and said ‘I guess so.’

It was only in the middle of New York a whole year later that I finally thought of answer to that remark.

Now, lying on my back in bed, I imagined Buddy saying. ‘Do you know what a poem is, Esther?’

‘No, what?’ I would say.

‘A piece of dust.’

Then just as he was smiling and starting to look proud, I would say, ‘So are the cadavers you cut up. So are the people you think you’re curing. They’re dust as dust as dust. I reckon a good poem lasts a whole lot longer than a hundred of those people put together…People were made of nothing so much as dust, and I couldn’t see that doctoring that dust was a bit better than writing poems people would remember and repeat to themselves when they were unhappy or sick and couldn’t sleep.

I like to think that the arts are a form of “doctoring” – a form of therapy. And so, for me – and a lot of other students – it’s MedLit that’s an outlet for creative expression, for discussion on literature, and exploring what it means to be human. The arts help us navigate complicated emotional landscapes, help us process what we’re feeling, and allow us to develop a stronger sense of empathy.

That’s why MedLit is such a valuable part of my med school experience. I hope it will allow me to keep that vulnerability and openness – and try to find a healthy way to maintain it throughout my medical training.


And …on the theme of vulnerability and being an artist — this upcoming Wednesday, MedLit is hosting a poetry night! Good timing because April is National Poetry Month!!! This will be a chance to share our own writing or poems/prose we love. It’ll be a chance to be vulnerable – and to bravely explore different facets of the human experience.

Come join us – it’ll be fun, I promise.

– AA


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