The Muse

May 2011.

I have a full draft of Double the Stars: the Life and Adventures of Miss Caroline Herschel. The past months, since last autumn, I’ve been ‘working on’ the novel in the sense of letting it rest and brew, or simmer, in the back of my mind. Phrases and scenes will float up, and I’ll jot them down. I’m gearing up to revise this draft, and I’m not sure exactly when that’s going to happen, but I’m hoping to really sit down and thrash it out sometime in the next few months.

The reason I say ‘I’m hoping’ (because really, don’t I just have to do it?) is because I’ve been completely immersed in researching anatomical wax models for this poetry play, Venus Heart. The Wellcome Library will either stick a barcode on me or start charging rent. Happily, I was accepted as a Founding Member of Henry’s Club, so I have a place to go have tea when the dissected bodies all become too much.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing poems and re-drafting for a chapbook, or pamphlet-length work, Atlantic. At present, I’m not sure if it will become a pamphlet, or if it will wait until it’s ready to be a full-length poetry collection. These are very personal poems about my father’s death, my grandparents ageing and dying, and ideas of family, and living abroad. It is themed around the Atlantic ocean, but not so strictly as the themes in Darwin’s Microscope, or of course the close-framed story and history in Venus Heart.

So while the novel simmers, the hand turns to poetry.

Stacks of books, Poetry & Medicine

Poetry and Medicine can cover a huge range of themes. At the 2011 Symposium on Poetry & Medicine at the University of Warwick, speakers gave talks ranging from syphilis in the plays of Shakespeare to helping underprivileged kids in Auckland NZ express themselves through poetry. Many talks considered the use of poetry as therapy, whether for patients, nurses, or doctors, by escaping the pressure of a difficult situation or facing it head-on.

The Hippocrates Prize readings were fascinating, and I highly recommend the 2011 anthology for anyone interested in the expression of illness, well-being, healing, and death, through the genre of poetry. Medicine and poetry can be about grief or recovery, being a patient, knowing a patient, or patiently waiting to be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. It can be about depression, yoga, sex, memory, or the loss of memory through dementia. It can be about personal, individual memory, or communal memory, such as facing HIV in Africa. It can be about sexuality, issues of gender, and ideas of liberation.

Poetry and Medicine can also be about the history of medicine, which is where I stepped in to talk about my latest poetry project, Venus Heart. Inspired by the anatomical wax models in the Museo La Specola in Florence, Venus Heart is going to draw composite characters from real historical figures in the wax workshop, as well as draw inspiration from classics such as Frankenstein and the Pygmalion myth. The photo here is a small selection of books I have at home which I’m using to research the poetry project. I’ve been delighting in a mountain of books at the Wellcome Library as well.

Congratulations to the Hippocrates Prize-winners for their well-deserved accolades, and congratulations to the Committee of the Symposium for running such a hospitable and interesting event!

International Symposium on Poetry & Medicine

Tomorrow I take the train up to the University of Warwick to attend Saturday’s 2011 International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine. I shall be talking on the progress of my current poetry project, ‘Venus Heart,’ a poetry play inspired by the anatomical wax models of Florence’s La Specola Museum.

The programme for the day looks fascinating and I’m so pleased to be asked to attend. There will be talks on reading and writing poetry, looking at nursing practice, young people’s health, dementia, syphilis, and sex in poetry. (Can’t have sex in poetry without syphilis.)

There will also be a poetry reading from the winners of the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine.