Cornbread Therapy and Sweet Survival

James W. Borton has edited an anthology entitled The Art of Medicine in artofmedicineMetaphor: A Collection of Poems and Narratives (Copernicus Healthcare, 2012). At 156 pages and including 78 poems and short nonfiction essays, the anthology will be available for purchase ($14.95) at the end of January 2013 from both Amazon and Ingram Books.

I met James Borton in 2011 at the University of Iowa’s Examined Life Conference: Writing, Humanities and the Art of Medicine. Mr. Borton is a career journalist who teaches English at University of South Carolina/Sumter Campus. A year or so prior to our meeting, Mr. Borton survived a major complication of heart bypass surgery that left him in a coma for close to a week. After his own life-threatening illness, he turned to the healing power of writing. He maintains a blog All Heart Matters and teaches courses and workshops on Narrative Medicine. His anthology includes the work of a diverse group of people—doctors, nurses, other healthcare professionals, patients, family members—who have taken his workshops or courses in South Carolina. With only a few exceptions this is an anthology of work by non-professional writers—which I consider to be one of the book’s greatest strengths. It makes the anthology fresh and highly accessible to a broad audience.

I’ve read the entire anthology twice over the past several days and have enjoyed it. Each time I read any of the entries I am transported back to my Southern roots. There are the frequent religious references to angels and prayer (this is the buckle of the Bible Belt after all), mixed in with mentions of Mississippi Mud Pie, cornbread, chopping cotton, fixing trucks, and reading Southern Living magazines in chemotherapy waiting rooms. There’s a lovely essay “Learning to Breathe” by Patricia Dale about her psychiatric hospitalization experience. Sam Watson’s poem “Another Reason to be Pleasant” should be required reading for anyone working in the OR or pre or post-op. Mailaika Favorite’s poem “Snake” has changed my relationship with my spinal cord and vertebrae. Selena Larkin’s poem “Sweet Survival” about living with diabetes, and Jennifer Bartell’s essay “Cornbread Therapy” about her chemotherapy experience, both conjure up the scrappy, witty and warm Southern women I know well. And finally, Debra McQueen’s two essays, “The Roundup” and “Alternative Medicine” are beautifully written and are ones I can see myself using in my teaching. So ring in the New Year by eating black-eyed peas with ham hocks and placing this book on your ‘to read’ list.

As usual, Arthur Frank says it well in his endorsement of The Art of Medicine in Metaphor:

“This anthology will be of particular use to people who want to write about illness and healthcare but are having trouble getting started. These poems and short stories show how writing teaches observation, observation precipitates understanding, and understanding can be a form of healing.”

—Arthur W. Frank, author of The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics (expanded edition forthcoming, 2013)

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