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Shedding Light on Grief and Healing

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BOOK REVIEW: Tell Me Again (Poetry and Prose from The Healing Art of Writing, 2012)

By Jenny Qi
Executive Editor

What do you get when you invite a group of like-minded writers to spend a week on an idyllic campus, immersed in creative writing and focused on the subject of healing? A powerful collection of poetry and prose that springs from the deepest black wells of human experience.

Tell Me Again, published by UC Medical Humanities Press this month, is the result of the weeklong Healing Art of Writing Conference that took place at Dominican University in July 2012.

“Being cured of a disease is not the same as being healed, and…expressive writing promotes both spiritual and physical healing,” according to conference organizers Dr. David Watts, clinical professor of Medicine at UCSF, and his wife Dr. Joan Baranow, associate professor of English at Dominican University. Wary of the dehumanizing sterility that can plague the medical practice, they “sought to strengthen compassionate understanding between healthcare providers and (patients).”

Conference participants included health professionals, students and patients. They retreated from their hectic lives to each produce and revise dozens of pages of writing over the course of the week. It was an opportunity for all of the participants to share their diverse perspectives on healthcare and healing.

Medical practitioners remember their most memorable patients, patients write defiantly in the face of trauma and disease, parents mourn their lost children and children mourn their lost parents. This anthology includes the finest of these writings.

Joanne Clarkson’s “The Oldest Sense” is one of many haunting reflections on the life of a terminally ill patient. Similarly, in “Two Deaths and a Lesson,” medical student Adam Luxenberg crafts a sometimes-humorous, moving profile of an elderly patient. “I Press My Finger to Your Palm” is Marissa Bois’ tender elegy for an aging grandfather.

As a whole, Tell Me Again is by turns painfully honest, sardonically funny, breathtaking and unpredictable. Reading through this collection, I am struck by the fierce universality of grief—grief for lost loved ones, lost patients, lost body parts. But even more striking is the strength with which the speakers overcome these losses.

“Words, that can so often fail us like so many wet matches, also have the potential to light on fire—to light my life, light up the life of others,” writes John Fox in his essay “Letting The Light In.” Light—this is what this anthology does—it sheds light on some of the most painful parts of human life, and in doing so, it lets the light penetrate the darkness.

To place an order, please email brian.dolan@ucsf.edu.

Jenny Qi is a third-year BMS student.

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