'Secret Wounds' by physician-poet makes poetry of medicine
Dr. Berlin is also the author of How JFK Killed My Father, his first poetry collection published in 2003, and two poetry chapbooks, Code Blue and The Prophecy. He also edited Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process, a collection of essays by 16 contemporary poets who write about how their psychiatric treatment influenced their creativity. Berlin’s poems have also been published regularly in Psychiatric Times.
Attempting to explain the connection between his primary career as a physician and his secondary one as a writer, Berlin said, “As psychiatrists we condense an incredible amount of emotional intensity . . . There is something about the condensed pressure of poetry that feels very natural to me. I believe it has something to do with being a doctor and thinking that way.”
The poems in Secret Wounds explore the emotional terrain of doctor-patient relationships and how doctors' vulnerabilities and psychological scars become the secret wounds they must bear. These subjects comes honestly to Berlin, a psychiatrist who specializes in liaison-consultation psychiatry, which focuses on treating patients who suffer from psychiatric complications of severe medical disorders such as cancer, stroke and heart disease. His professional practice along with his keen interest in the doctor-patient relationship and in developing strategies to bring doctors closer to their patients informs his writing and resonates with readers. In the words of one reviewer, “. . . the beauty and power of Richard Berlin’s Secret Wounds as a whole lies in his healing presence throughout these poems.”
Creating impact beyond that of his own poetry, Berlin advocates for others in medicine to express themselves via creative writing. In particular, he has encouraged UMMS students to write by establishing the Gerald F. Berlin Writing Competition at the Medical School, using the cash component of his 2002 Pearl Poetry Award for How JFK Killed My Father to fund the annual event. Now entering its eighth year with additional support from the offices of Student Affairs and Educational Affairs, and the Lamar Soutter Library and its Humanities in Medicine Committee, the competition has recognized Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine students for their essays, fiction and poetry.
“I believe that creative writing gives health professionals in training a special opportunity to reflect on their experiences, to maintain their humanity and to heighten their empathy for the suffering of their patients,” Berlin writes of the competition, named in memory of his father, who suffered from chronic illness. “These are qualities that bring doctors closer to their patients, and I know these are the qualities my father always looked for and admired in his own physicians.”
Related links:Creative writing winners to be honoredPsychiatrist/poet bridges the art and science of medicine (login required)Richard M. Berlin, MD