The borderlands of science and the soul: Leah Kaminsky launches ‘Chronicity’ by Michael J. Leach

Chronicity by Michael J. Leach, Melbourne Poets Union Inc 2020, was virtually launched by Leah Kaminsky on 25 November 2020.

In the introduction to Writer MD, an anthology of physician-writers I edited, Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of How Doctors Think, writes: ‘The wise doctor probes not only the organs of his patient but also his feelings and emotions, his fears and his hopes, his regrets and his goals. And to accomplish that most important task of applying wisdom, the physician also needs to take his own emotional temperature, to realise how his own beliefs and biases may be brought to bear in his efforts to secure a better future for his patient.’

Writing can be a means of distilling the experience of being a doctor. And this is just as important for all of us trained in the sciences. As scientists, we are trained to measure, calibrate, analyse and interpret, leaving our emotions outside the door.

Groopman continues:

Schooled in physiology and pharmacology, the molecular workings of genes and proteins, the biochemistry of health and disease, (a doctor) brings to care a diverse body of expert knowledge. That knowledge is rapidly expanding with the use of sophisticated technologies such as genomics that map mutations in our DNA, and MRI scans that reveal millimetre abnormalities in our inner organs. This wealth of information has changed the nature of diagnosis and treatment, bringing many maladies under the bright light of science, illuminating their genesis, and providing a rational basis for their remedy.

But what has not changed over the millennia is the human soul. Greater knowledge does not necessarily translate into greater wisdom. Wisdom requires melding information with judgement and values. The wise doctor probes not only the organs of their patient but also their feelings and emotions, fears and hopes, regrets and his goals. And to accomplish that most important task of applying wisdom, the physician also needs to take their own emotional temperature, to realise how their own beliefs and biases may be brought to bear in his efforts to secure a better future for their patient.’

There is a long tradition of scientist-writers. Apollo managed to combine a dual career as the Greek god of both poetry and medicine. Copernicus, Maimonides, Bulgakov and Chekhov were all physicians. Humphry Davy, who discovered the elements sodium and potassium (among others), was a poet was celebrated by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Mathematician Ada Lovelace, the estranged daughter of the Romantic poet Lord Byron, invented the Analytical Engine, a forerunner to the computer. Canadian Astronomer, Rebecca Elson, used data from the Hubble Space Telescope to look for the origins of the universe.

Dr Felice Aull, editor of the Literature, Arts, and Medicine database at New York University School of Medicine, observes in the mission statement of the NYU Medical Humanities website: ‘The humanities and arts provide insight into the human condition, suffering, personhood, our responsibility to each other, and offer a historical perspective on medical practice. Attention to literature and the arts helps to develop and nurture skills of observation, analysis, empathy, and self-reflection — skills that are essential for humane medical care. The social sciences help us to understand how bioscience and medicine take place within cultural and social contexts and how culture interacts with the individual experience of illness and the way medicine is practiced.’

Chronicity is a collection that hovers on these borderlands of science and the soul. It weaves logic with emotion, and knowledge with wisdom. It is a shapeshifter, taking us on the eight minute and 20 second journey of invisible cosmic travellers of energy arriving on the earth across the cosmos, or following a Paracetamol tablet as it enters the gut and dissolves into the bloodstream. It takes us along as it surfs the waves of depression. Michael’s poetry emerges from the rich tradition in which science and poetry have always been bedfellows, born from the same wellspring of creativity and vision. It implores us that a more interdisciplinary, holistic approach is needed to truly begin to understand and save our world.

 – Leah Kaminsky

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Photo credit: © Karen Quist (Lens & Pen Group)

Leah Kaminsky is a physician and writer. Her latest book, which she co-edited with Meg Keneally, is Animals Make Us Human. Her debut novel The Waiting Room won the Voss Literary Prize. The Hollow Bones won the 2019 International Book Awards in both Literary Fiction and Historical Fiction categories and the 2019 Best Book Awards for Literary Fiction. We’re all Going to Die has been described as ‘a joyful book about death’. She edited Writer MD and co-authored Cracking the Code. Stitching Things Together was a finalist in the Anne Elder Poetry Award. She holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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.Chronicity is available from tinagiannoukos@gmail.com

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