Friday, January 9, 2015

Science and Poetry

Strange Bedfellows.  Not Necessarily.

A friend and I attended a poetry reading at the Folger Library in D.C. in December.  Rafael Campo, a poet and a medical doctor read the poetry of Emily Dickinson, as well as some of his own.

Wait a minute…a medical doctor writing poetry…that had to be interesting.  It was! 
Rafael Campo is a practicing physician at Harvard Medical School and at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is also a published poet since 1993.  He has published several books of poetry and two prose collections, including “The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry.” 

There it is in the title…the merging of science and poetry, a confession of Campo’s strong belief that poetry (and other arts) is an effective treatment for our illnesses.  Poetry can heal us not only emotionally but physically.  Art nurtures that strong connection that exists between our mind/heart and our body.

Campo’s poems describe his world vividly, blood and guts, birth and death, sickness and recovery.  As part of his healing path, Campo also teaches writing classes to patients and medical students. Campo’s hope is that these future doctors will perhaps become more sensitive, more personal, more human, and more compassionate in their interactions with patients through their contact with poetry.

In his lecture, Campo noted Emily Dickinson’s profound scientific knowledge that permeated her nature poetry.  She had studied botany for years and worked in her home garden with devotion.  To know something so well may inspire deep feelings of awe and inspire the poet to write about them lyrically.

I think Emily Dickinson did in the past and Rafael Campo is doing so today.

Emily Dickinson
Rafael Campo


  1. Campo really a scientist? He is implementing treatment on patients that were developed with scientific methods, but being a practitioner of western medicine does not automatically qualify you as a scientist. Sure, there are plenty of MDs who are scientists, but if one is essentially diagnosing patients and following established treatment procedures, you aren't doing science. For the same reason, most engineers aren't scientists.

    I'm more inclined to accept the connection you are making with Dickinson. A deep knowledge of botany must have given her an immense appreciation of the complexity, symmetry, and beauty present in the natural world.


    1. I take your point...perhaps it would have been more accurate to title this blog "Medicine and Poetry", but then how would Emily Dickinson feel? I suspect she wouldn't mind because her poetry can be considered as medicine for the soul.

  2. Dear Claire,
    Just catching up with your blog. I'm touched by your wonderful words in both the January and April entries. You do have a way with words, prose and poetry.