What Will Not Let Me Forget – A Personal Story of a Poem and Synchronicity (Meaningful Coincidence)

My poem “Voices”, long forgotten but demanding to be remembered!

In a series of synchronistic events a poem I wrote has come back to me more than thirty years after I wrote it and almost twenty years since I had disavowed it and forgotten it! I had forgotten that a dear friend, Sarah Wilson, copied out the poem in her distinctive and wonderful script with a water-coloured background (see above) and we had made multiple copies on sturdy rag watercolour paper and given them away! Well, the poem is forgotten no longer.

A number of months ago here on a far-west shore of Canada I received an email from Susan R. from far away in Port Colborne, Ontario. She said she had picked up “Voices” for fifty cents at a Mennonite thrift shop a number of years ago in Port Colborne, made copies and gave it to friends! I was flummoxed, couldn’t remember any special rendering of the poem, let alone Sarah’s rendering.  Wondered what the heck it was. Then Susan sent a photocopy. Just like you see above.  But not this copy! That’s the second surprise!

A few days ago an friend I had known in Calgary years ago and whom I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years emailed me from Falmouth in Cornwall, England. She had a dream a few days before she wrote me that directed her to go looking through old boxes to find the poem I had given her years ago called “Voices”. That’s her copy above! Two times in a few months! No simple coincidence I say!  And Falmouth? You’ve got to be kidding! That where my Osler great great grandparents were born and lived before leaving for Canada in 1837 a few weeks after they were married! Wonderfully strange. Synchronicities. What needs to be paid attention to!
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My Story – Transforming Anger into Action Close to Home – What To Do About “Unsustainable Logging”? How To Turn “Things or Objects” into Nouns We Care For?

A Woman Hugging a Noun Called “Old-Growth Tree”

“If I choose not to become attached to nouns – a person, place or thing – then when I refuse a intimate’s love or hoard my spirit, when a known landscape is bought, sold and developed, chained or grazed to stubble, or a hawk is shot and hung by its feet on a barbed wire fence, my heart cannot be broken because I never risked giving it away.

But what kind of impoverishment is this to withhold emotion, re restrain our passionate nature in the face of a generous life just to appease our fears? A man or woman whose mind reins in the heart when the body sings desperately for connection can only expect more isolation and greater ecological disease. Our lack of intimacy with each other is in direct proportion to our lack of intimacy with the land. We have taken our love inside and abandoned the world.”

Terry Tempest Williams from Winter Solstice at the Moab Slab

I immediately thought of this searing quote by Terry Tempest Williams when I read the remarkable opinion piece by Susan Simard in the Globe and Mail this morning. And just a little while ago I shared on Facebook her heart-cry to our dwindling forests here in B.C. Susan is a B.C.-based forestry expert whose ground-breaking work on understanding how trees connect underground through roots and fungal connectors has given us utterly new and profound insights to the interconnectedness of things that keep us and our planet alive.

Noted B.C. writer Yvonne Blomer expressed in a comment to my post how frustrated she is about all that is happening with forestry here in B.C. and I said back to her on Facebook: ME TOO! Then I wrote some words I have expanded into this blog post! Thank you Yvonne for the trigger!

I know we have a new forestry plan for B.C., unveiled last week, that will give greater voice to native communities and might protect more old-growth forests which is great but I am not sure it is nearly enough. My heart winces every time I go to visit my grand daughter on Salt Spring island when I see the mountains of logs being loaded on to ocean-going ships in the Crofton harbour. Really Mr. Horgan? Really Mr. Premier?

Why aren’t forestry worker up in arms over this as much as they are about protestors trying to protect our priceless remaining old growth forests? And why isn’t the government helping forestry workers transition into other jobs that ultimately will not threaten life forms on the planet like forestry is now doing. How to put back true “sustainability” into sustainable logging. I hear the impassioned cries of forestry workers, men and women and their families, about how their jobs are precious and must be protected but at what cost. Do they truly understand the cost to our world if we don’t slow down the pillaging of our forests? Do they understand the danger to our world Susan Simard’s work is revealing to us?

First this admission: I am complicit. I sit inside a wooden house with wooden floors and fir trim around doors and windows. But surely there is a “true” way to have sustainable logging that does not endanger our very well-being!

Now to make this personal. To write in the spirit of Terry Tempest Williams’s paragraphs above. Paragraphs which if taken to heart must change a heart. So here is my story and response to the trees falling not just deep within B.C. far from cities but to the trees falling all around me in the Cowichan Valley here on Vancouver Island on private lands then often sold for development. So a month or so and this close to home, literally, and perhaps not so obviously-awful some new neighbours a ways down our road in the country moved in and then took out all the trees that bookended an existing field. There were a lot. They decided they needed more field space for grass and horses. I get their’s is private land. Yet, we share the air and water! And the trees have a huge impact on air and water as we know. Now more runoff off into already compromised Quamichan Lake.
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S (Reprise and Surprise) is for Sotelo – Watching Men and Women Performing Their Wounds – Poems from VIRGIN by Analicia Sotelo

American Mexican poet Analicia Sotelo

Private Property

In this minor emergency of the self,
We drink to become confused,
To swim in the dark like idiot fish.

This is a lake at night in a forest.

This is where we look up at the stains
In the sky and someone says, It’s purpling out here,
And someone else says, Someone write that down.

We’re all performing our bruises.

Chloe smiles like a specialty knife,
Bea tells stories like a bubbly divorcee,
Clara smokes like a sage in her coiffed towel,
expertly naked, third eye shining.

I hang back on the shore with Kyle.
We talk about his man in New York
while our skinny-dipping sirens
sing show tunes in the violet dark.

Later we’re all in a clinic at 3 a.m.
handling Kyle’s broken ankle.
It’s so embarrassing , he keeps saying.

And it is: earlier doing the sprinkler
in a dorm room to Please Don’t Stop the Music,
he kept yelling, Stop the music! Stop the music!
until we understood: he wasn’t actually joking.

And sometimes the poems were like that.
When we wrote knife, bubbly, naked,
we were really getting down,
dancing hard on the injury.

Analicia Sotelo from VIRGIN, Milkweed editions, 2018

These days I am drawn to challenging poetic voices that live outside a safe mainstream cultural center. It could be LGBTQ voices, male or female, or men or women with disabilities or non-white voices (also male or female) saying these are my realities, not those of the mainstream. These voices saying be careful of what you get used to. It may be built on false assumptions or foundations.

One such voice is that of American Mexican poet and educator Analicia Sotelo whose 2018 poetry collection, VIRGIN, was picked by black American poet Ross Gay as the inaugural winner of the Jake Adam York Prize for a first or second collection of poems by an American poet. This book sings a saw-like song cutting up all sorts of cultural assumptions especially about women. And her saw is sharp and savvy. Sher looks underneath to where the bruises, the injuries, the wounds are!

I have been sitting with her poem Private Property for some weeks now, so amazed at what complexity she adds to a scene of kids hanging out in a dorm, hanging out a lake and ending up in hospital. But there is so much more going on. There a psychological take going on that look beneath the surface. And she wields images like swords.

In this minor emergency of the self,
We drink to become confused,
To swim in the dark like idiot fish.

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S is for Spriggs – Two Get-Me-Every-Time Poems by the American Poet Bianca Lynne Spriggs

American poet Bianca Lynne Spriggs (1981 – )

What Women Are Made Of

There are many kinds of open.
— Audre Lorde

We are all ventricle, spine, lung, larynx, and gut.
Clavicle and nape, what lies forked in an open palm;

we are follicle and temple. We are ankle, arch,
sole. Pore and rib, pelvis and root

and tongue. We are wishbone and gland and molar
and lobe. We are hippocampus and exposed nerve

and cornea. Areola, pigment, melanin, and nails.
Varicose. Cellulite. Divining rod. Sinew and tissue,

saliva and silt. We are blood and salt, clay and aquifer.
We are breath and flame and stratosphere. Palimpsest

and bibelot and cloisonné fine lines. Marigold, hydrangea,
and dimple. Nightlight, satellite, and stubble. We are

pinnacle, plummet, dark circles, and dark matter.
A constellation of freckles and specters and miracles

and lashes. Both bent and erect, we are all give
and give back. We are volta and girder. Make an incision

in our nectary and Painted Ladies sail forth, riding the back
of a warm wind, plumed with love and things like love.

Crack us down to the marrow, and you may find us full
of cicada husks and sand dollars and salted maple taffy

weary of welding together our daydreams. All sweet tea,
razor blades, carbon, and patchwork quilts of Good God!

and Lord have mercy! Our hands remember how to turn
the earth before we do. Our intestinal fortitude? Cumulonimbus

streaked with saffron light. Our foundation? Not in our limbs
or hips; this comes first as an amen, a hallelujah, a suckling,

swaddled psalm sung at the cosmos’s breast. You want to
know what women are made of? Open wide and find out.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs from Breakbeat Poets Vol. 2 – Black Girl Magic, Haymarket Books, 2018

I am so grateful to Haymarket Books, the self-defined “radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago” which introduced me to Bianca Lynne Spriggs in the anthology Breakbeat Poets Vol. 2 – Black Girl MagicI like this poem and Bianca’s poetry enough I am featuring her again here a little more than a year after I featured her to celebrate International Woman’s Day last year!

My exposure to Haymarket has been through their poetry publications that publish voices from typically non-white communities that been under-represented in so-called mainstream publishing. Not just the marvelous BreakBeat Poets anthology series (now with four volumes including the latest LatiNext) but individual volumes as well including If God is a Virus by Seema Yasmin that I featured a few weeks ago in my blog post Y is for Yasmin. And their BreakBeat Poets anthologies celebrate poets, some well-known, others not, that add a necessary vitality to today’s poetry scene.
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T is for Thesen (and Gallant) – The Wig-Maker – A Remarkable Collaboration – Truth-Telling, Poetry, Healing

Canadian author and wig-maker Janet Gallant

from The Neighbour

My dad was such a liar.
      It was all about perception, I had to be a refined lady
            I never carried myself like a slut, not even nail polish.
I was perfect.
      I fooled them all, to the point where I fooled myself.
            I was fictitious. I wore nice suits.

By the time you’re six, you’re a double agent.

In a world that feels this way, the soul knows something is wrong.
The moan is the vibration of the soul.

Since I could never speak my truths, how could I sing them?
I never felt worthy. I felt like a fraud.

The truth is in music. The truth is in the moan. Billy’s moan.
The moan on the slave ships.

Everything that is wrong is in this story.

Janet Gallant and Sharon Thesen from The Wig-Maker, New Star Books, 2021

Out of two fires comes the book The Wig-Maker, from which this poem excerpt can be found. From the fire of drastic physical and sexual abuse in childhood and a literal wildfire that threatened the city of Kelowna in the B.C. interior in 2017.

It was during one evening during the worst of that fire around Kelowna that turned two neighbours (celebrated writer and teacher Sharon Thesen and wig-maker Janet Gallant) with little previous contact into intimate collaborators. It was then with the help of some wine that Janet began to tell her story which, through many follow up meetings and artistic collaboration, created the words that make up almost all of  this book. It tells a life-giving story of self-discovery and claiming her black ancestory, a name and birthright. How Janet McCrate (her birth name), became Janet Cliff (her married name) and now Janet Gallant (her birth-father’s name).

This book. So much more than a collection of poems. Something, dare I say, of the sacred enters in, when a survivor braves all resistance and shares their story within the compressed marvel that is a poem. And when I think of the results of doing this I think of the words of American poet Greg Orr who suffered the huge trauma of killing his brother in a hunting accident when just a boy:

When you suffer trauma, you mostly do that passively, as a victim. But when you translate that experience into words and shape it, you become active. You are no longer a passive endurer of experience, but an active shaper of it. You’ve redeemed something from that chaos. Writing a poem can save your life, and reading a poem can show you that you are not alone. “Someone else felt this. Someone else went through what you are going through and they survived, even triumphed.The poem is the proof of that survival and triumph.

Gregory Orr from Image Journal, Winter 2013

This book, yes, difficult, forged within the container of an unspeakably difficult life. This book proof, as Gregory Orr says, of triumph and survival. And because of this I feel it is so important that this huge small book get as large a readership as possible. To remind all of us of the possibility of surviving the large and even small challenges in our lives. To know we, too, can survive “the moan” what ever form it takes in our lives.
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U is for Uppal – R.I.P. 1974-2018 – Gone Far too Soon!


Canadian poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist, Priscila Uppal (1974 – 2018). Also Canadian Poet laureate for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 London summer games.

To A Future Reader

I beg you, tell me
the words I left
ended up funny,
gave you guffaws
as the planet
went all to hell
in ways I was not
sad enough to imagine.

Ave Atque Vale

Priscila Uppal from Ontological Necessities, Exile Editions, 2006

This kind of takes my breath away. This poem from the 2007 Griffin Prize Canadian shortlist might not have imagined that its writer, Priscila Uppal would leave this planet 12 years later at an impossibly young forty-three years of age. Dead from a shockingly rare cancer that, in her words, only attacks the incredibly fit. To hear her discuss her cancer and poems that came out of it please click here. It feels so worng that a woman who was so alive and participated in life as if each year was worth two or three, was taken from us so early.

And, for sure, little did she know in her poem above she was not sad enough to imagine her own early death nor the current Covid-19 pandemic. I think it’s safe to say Uppal was irrepressible even editing , ten days before her death, one of two collections that came out after she was gone.  And the end to her poem from Catallus, Hail and Farewell. How uncannily fitting.

Priscila was the author of among many things she wrote, eleven poetry collections, a celebrated memoir, a play and two novels and,  as well,  was a full-time  York University professor! She crammed in a lot in her forty-three years.  And if you see pictures of her decked out in some great colourful outfit or wearing a great hat you sense her vitality and exuberant life force. While it was here.

And now the title poem from her Grffin-Prize-nominated poem. How it seems almost a prediction of what was to come:

Ontological Necessity

I’d like to bruise this earth
with mental missives until it cracks. If a volcano’s brain
contains each eruption, we too must have these splits,

these dungeon pits inside us.

The harvest is nuclear.
My mouth, an octagon; my chest an F.B.I. file.
Stem cells grow off my neighbours balcony, fall into my tea.

Cancer paid my tuition. On and on the hurricane
spies and trades. No one wacthes television

for the stories. Our universe is fresh out of those.
The galaxy yawns and pops pills.

Dear Self,
How am I to know if You are still alive?

Test me, you reply.

Priscilla Uppal, ibid

The freshness of all that comes at me unexpected in this poem!  This volcanic voice. How it throws everything but the kitchen sink at me. The fun it seems to have doing this! Really: my chest, an F.B.I. file? The marvel of that. Maybe not a playful meaning in the poem but done so playfully. And then the dramatic ending. I wish she hadn’t ever written this. To ask to be tested to know her “self” is alive. Oh god, it was so alive! And she did get tested. Tested too much! Too far. Yet in her 2015 CBC interview, linked above, her confidence that she was going to beat the unbeatable was remarkable. Couldn’t have asked for more of an alive self if you ask me. Priscila, your poetry a remaining gift and maybe not all guffaws. Your death, a remaining loss and grief.

V is for Vasquez (Gilliland) – A Journey Home to Find Where Healing Lives: In “Tales from the House of Vasquez”

Mexican-American poet and YA author, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

The Tale of Postpartum

The doctor is ancient
and I don’t think
she can hear me
when I say, my columna
verterbral is on the outside now.

She asks, do you like
caring for the baby?

I nod. Yes, I love
caring for the baby.

And then I whisper.

But how long
can a woman live
with her spine
on the outside.
It hurts so bad,
I can’t even cry.

Good news, the doctor
tells me, staring at
her notes. You don’t
have depression.

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland from Tales from the House of Vasquez, Rattle, 2018

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland won a Rattle Chapbook prize in 2018 for her poetry collection Tales from the House of Vasquez. But that was the least of it! This bewitching and haunting collection is what helped put Raquel back together again after what she describes as a major nervous breakdown following the birth of her first child. Poetry as healing. Stories as healing. The stories of the women in  Raquel’s family, their horrors and triumphs. The female histories from the house of Vasquez that included a history of mental illness of her mother’s side. And how they suffered. These discoveries Raquel made in the making of this book. In the making of her healing.
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W is for Wrigley – And His New Book of Essays Published by Tupelo Press: Nemerov’s Door

The latest book by U.S. master poet Robert Wrigley (1951 – )


My father loved every kind of machinery,
relished bearings, splines, windings, and cogs,
loved the tolerances between moving parts
and the parts that moved the parts,
the many separate machines of machinery.
Loved the punch, the awl, the ratchet, the pawl.
In-feed and out-feed rollers of the thickness planer,
its cutter head and cutters. The barrel and belt sanders,
the auger, capstan, windlass, and magneto.
Such a beautiful vocabulary in his work, words
he knew even if often he did not know
how they were spelled. Seals, risers, armatures.
Claw, ball-peen, sledge, dead-blow, mallet,
hammers all. Butt, mitered, half-lap,
tongue and groove; mortise and tenon,
biscuit, rabbet, dovetail, and box: all joints.
“A poem is a small (or large) machine
made of words,” said William Carlos Williams.
“To build the machine that makes the machine,”
said Elon Musk. Once my father repaired
a broken harpsichord but could not make it sing.
The chock, the bore, the chisel. He could hang a door,
rebuild an engine. Cylinders, pistons, and rings.
Shafts, crank and cam. Hand-cut notches
where the hinges sat. He loved the primary feathers
on the wings of a duck, extended and catching air,
catching also the tops of the whitecap waves
when it landed. Rods, valves, risers, and seals.
Ailerons and flaps, yaw control in the tail.
Machinery, machinery, machinery.
Four syllables in two iambic feet. A soft pulse.
Once I told him what Williams said,
he approached what I made with deeper interest
but no more understanding in the end.
The question he did not ask, that would have
embarrassed him to ask, the question I felt sure
he wanted to ask, the one I was too embarrassed
to ask for him, was “What does it do?”
Eventually the machine his body was broken,
and now it is gone, and the mechanically inclined
machine in his head is also gone,
and most of his tools. The machines that made
the machines are gone too, but for a few
I have kept in remembrance. A fine wood plane
but not the thickness planer, which I would not know
how to use. A variety of clamps I use to clamp
things needing clamping. Frost said
“poetry is the sort of thing poets write.” My father
thought it was the sort of thing I wrote,
but what mattered to him was what it did.
What does it do, and what is it?
A widget that resists conclusions.
A crank that turns a wheel
that turns. A declaration of truth
by a human being running at full speed
in a race with no one, toward nowhere
except away from the beginning and toward arrival.
Once my father watched the snow
and noted how landing on the earth it melted.
He said, “It’s snow that doesn’t know it’s rain.”

Robert Wrigley (1951 – ) from The Georgia Review, Spring 2019

This has to be one of the best “list” poems I have ever come across. And how it braids with a discussion of poetics, its moving parts, not just the moving parts of machines.  And the meaning inside the gorgeous words and craft of this poem.The puzzle that is a parent. That is a child of a parent. And sometimes how a parent and child becomes less puzzling through a poem. And what is a poem? Or as Robert Wrigley writes above:

What does it do, and what is it?
A widget that resists conclusions.
A crank that turns a wheel
that turns. A declaration of truth
by a human being running at full speed
in a race with no one, toward nowhere
except away from the beginning and toward arrival.

And in the essay that gives the title for his most recent nonfiction book of essays, Nemerov’s Door, published by Tupelo Press in April, he defines it again when he wonders how he might have defined it for his father:

Could you have found a way to explain to him that poetry is not in what the poem says but in how it says it? That sometimes the work of poetry is to tell us what we already know.”
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X is for Xie – Third in a Series Featuring a Reverse Alphabet of Poets Beginning at Z for Zwicky, Y for Yasmin

Chinese American poet Jenny Xie. Photo Credit: Teresa Mathew


The black dog approaches?
I pry open the crooked jaw.

A heady odor, elemental.

And then?
I spin through my life again.

How so?
Slow and fast, fast and slow.

What follows?
Time, the oil of it.

What direction?
Solitude throws me off the scent.

And what lies ahead?
Even the future recoils, long as it is.

What points the finger?
All of my eye’s mistakes.

And what were they?

Jenny Xie from Eye Level, Graywolf Press, 2018

I first came across the idea of using an “undervoice” or interrogator in a poem through the American poet Carl Phillips. It helped me add a torque I felt was missing in the introductory poem of my first full-length collection. And I use the word torque because that’s the word Jenny Xie uses to talk about how how  adding the interrogator to her poem on melancholia torqued it up, added tension.

Jenny Xie came into the full limelight of the poetry scene in the US in 2017 when she won a number of accolades for her her debut collection Eye Level including being short-listed for the National Book Award. And in 2020 she was recognized with a prestigous Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise. Currently she teaches at Bard College in New York State.

Here are some of her thoughts on her poem from the Poetry Society of America website:

This formal structure, the mode of interrogation, had a certain charge. You can hear the echoes of an analysis session in it, but I was also drawn to the dance of riddling there, too.

In riddling, the slant ways of describing or approaching an object seem more pleasurable than arriving at an answer. What animates the exchange is the deferral of understanding, with descriptive lines revealing but also further obscuring the object. The back-and-forth, and the feeling around the shaded contours of something, felt like the right form for a poem aiming to locate the nature of a loss, which remains concealed and unknowable. I liked the drawing out of tension, the probing. The questions open to answers, which keep opening.

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Y is for Yasmin – Ouch! Ouch! The Tough Truths – “Confront the Complexities” – in Seema Yasmin’s Must-Read Poetry Collection: “If God is a Virus”

Seema Yasmin M.D. (1982 -) British-born American doctor and journalist who in recent years now adds poet to her “other” accomplishments!!!

(Starting with Z for Zwicky this blog post, Y for Yasmin is now the second in a series of blog posts to feature contemporary poets by going backwards through the alphabet according to the initial of their last name. Next: X for Xie!)


Yallah habibti, move your tongue like the sea
easy. My big sister teaches me to ululate, rolls
her tongue in waves. Dips thin fingers inside
my mouth to pull out mine, stretches it long
and pinches the tip. Watch, we move tongues
like this. I see the walls of our father’s house
collapse and we swim free leleleleleleleleleee

On the ferry to Tangier I shriek across the sea.
Practice how to sound like a real woman. Old
aunties grab my buttocks, smush their breasts
against my back and sing leleleleleleleleleleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Don’t cover your mouth habibti! Only women
on the upper deck, only sea. We move tongues
like this to tell the waves stay back, tell men

stay back, tell the dead stay gone, tell runaway
wives stay gone. They turn me into wisteria
woman, limbs wrapped around poles and thighs
as they guide me. Throw back your head, epiglottis
to the breeze. Salt air burns my hot membranes,
scratches at the tight knots of my chords.
All my life I was told

women must swallow sand
unless we are sounding
a warning.

Seema Yasmin M.D. (1982 -) from Foundry magazine, 2017 and from If God Is A Virus, Haymarket Books, 2021

What a musical spell of a poem. What a cry of feminine freedom. Of power strong enough to still waves, keep men, the dead and runaway wives back, away and gone! And the hammer blow of the last stanza set apart in line length and stanza length so tellingingly from the stanzas and lines that come before. This shortening of a woman’s life, her importance, her voice.

women must swallow sand
unless we are sounding
a warning.

This poem comes from an important book for our time published just weeks ago. In this pandemic time. And the title of  this book say so much. In so many ways if you see a god or gods as a prime mover of events of the world what a god Covid-19 is. Fierce and deadly. And it’s as if so much of the author’s life prepared her especially for this moment. I can think of few, if any, people who could with such authority pen this book and bring disease, as personified by a virus and its unexpected consequences, so to life!

What a woman, what a poet I say. And yet what I now know to say also is what a heck of a life this woman, this poet has had. Born in England to a mother who came to England from northwest India this woman became a doctor and then transformed her life as a high-profile medical activist and journalist, television and print analyst and academic in the United States. All in thirty-nine years! And now with her debut full-length poetry collection she is also a notable (I say) poet! In this she joins other notable contemporary doctor poets Rafael Campo and Amit Majmudar. And going back some, of course William Carlos Williams!

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