Monday, February 5, 2018

Poetry for Pets

Poetry is . . . what is poetry? High school English class taught us it doesn't have to rhyme and the work continually featured in literary and poetry magazines shows us poetry can almost be damn well anything as long as someone believes in it. OK, maybe that's getting a bit too Disney but in all seriousness, poetry is still a bit of a mystery to me yet I find myself continually drawn to it, trying to understand, trying to learn, and in the process of it all, collecting more and more pieces that I like. It's like broadening one's palate. On that note, I was delighted to snag Dr. Marjorie McMillan to ask her about a recent book of poetry she's published. Marge, owner of the Windover Veterinary Center in Walpole, MA, and board-certified veterinary radiologist, has recently published Cold Wet Noses, Whiskers and Tweets, a book of poems for and about animals. Here's what she had to say. 

"I have been seriously writing poetry for about five years," said Marge. "I belong to a poetry writing group and we meet to encourage each other and critique each others' work. Much of my poetry is about nature and animals and I finally had enough poems to publish a collection. I also wanted to be able to convey to my clients and the general public some of the emotions that go along with being a veterinarian."

"I wanted to convey to my clients and the general public some of the emotions that go along with being a veterinarian." 

Most people have an inclination toward a particular breed of pet for a plethora of reasons. I wondered if a certain favoritism found its way into Marge's poems, but she emphasized the individual. "It's not so much a particular species or breed," she said, "but what inspires me as a poet is a certain animal or situation or emotion that I want to express in powerful language." Evoking emotions in those who read her poems is the aim. 

Tackling the subject of rhyme in poetry, Marge said she's in it for the challenge. "I like to write in rhyme and meter; it's harder than open style, so I like the challenge, but not all topics lend themselves to rhyme and meter. It's hard to get it really right like the great poets. Most people who are not serious readers of poetry seem to prefer poems that rhyme."

Given the intricate, intimate, and sensitive nature of most poems, it seemed to me there must be a certain level of empathy required to write poetry. Herein lies my connection between the creative arts and veterinary medicine because to truly connect with patients and clients, a veterinarian (this also applies to physicians and others in the wide spectrum of medical sciences) should also be highly empathetic. I asked Marge if she thought attributes of poetry writing crossed over into the successful practice of veterinary medicine and vise versa.

"Poetry allows me to connect on a deeper level with clients and it also gives them insight into the depth of my feelings. It creates a stronger veterinarian-client bond." 
"There has been much published lately about the mental health of veterinarians and the suicide rate," she said. "Poetry allows me to process the very difficult emotions around ending animals' lives, the difficulty of dealing with angry and sometimes impossible clients, and the joyful experiences. It allows me to connect on a deeper level with clients, especially around the loss of their pets, and it also gives them insight into the depth of my feelings. It creates a stronger veterinarian-client bond." 

This connection between the sciences and arts is occasionally nurtured at graduate school; see the elective course at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine featuring writing, reading, and discussing poetry, short stories, and novel excerpts in order to "help engender empathy for clients, encourage moral reflection, and sustain the joy of being a veterinarian." See VetWrite's interview with Dr. Elizabeth Stone for more on that. Another example is the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine at Duke University. 

What's more is Marge's fulfillment from having others read her work. "A poem isn't a poem until it is read by someone else," she said. "Writing poetry has allowed me to connect in a deeper and more spiritual way with animals and nature."

What's extra special about Marge's clinic, Windover Veterinary Center, is that the creativity does not stop with her. Cathy Symons, a certified veterinary technician and certified canine rehabilitation professional is an associated specialist with the clinic and has written a book titled Blind Devotion: Enhancing the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired Dogs. Joan Powers, Windover's hospital manager, was the photographer for Cathy's book. "I have a wonderful staff of creative women," said Marge. "The writing is a way of helping clients and animals in a right brain way. It allows us to step out of our usual medical roles and left brains and relate to clients in a different way. I also think it allows us to listen differently and hear beyond the factual medical history." 

Marge has a second collection of poetry in the works as well as a book half finished about her lawsuit for gender discrimination. She also confirms that her favorite poet is indeed the wonderful Mary Oliver

Until next time, dear readers: happy reading, happy writing, happy vetting.

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