Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tribute to UA Fanthorpe

Today I came home to a wonderful fat cardboard package on my doorstep: the result of an indulgent splurge on Amazon. The parcel included a volume from my wish list, long wanted but a pleasure postponed. However, two days ago, I’d decided it was indispensable and placed my order: Collected Poems of UA Fanthorpe. I spent a happy few hours dipping into this substantial anthology this afternoon, savouring familiar poems and relishing newfound treasures. Frustrated by the sketchy foreword, and half thinking how nice it would be to invite Fanthorpe to Purple Coat Club, I reached for that trusty tool of all things biographical, Wikipedia, to gauge the poet’s current coordinates. How shocking to see, at the base of her entry, ‘Ursula Fanthorpe died on 28 April 2009’. BBC website confirmed it – the news released by her publisher today. What an unnerving coincidence.

I first across UA Fanthorpe’s poems in a musty library copy of an anthology of medical poetry. The poem was ‘Jobdescription: Medical Records’, a wry, subversive description of the qualities needed to overcome the lurking horrors in the ‘seamy insides of notes’. By emphasising the qualities not required in the potential applicant, the poem tells us so much about the poignancy of the job: ‘Weights of histories (puffy / for the truly ill, thin and clean / For childhood’s greenstick fractures) / Will not concern you’.

Fanthorpe worked as a hospital receptionist in Bristol which inspired her first volume of poetry in 1978. She says in the foreword to Collected Poems, ‘At once I’d found the subject that I’d been looking for all my life: the strangeness of other people, particularly neurological patients, and how it felt to be them, and to use their words.’ Her Casehistory poems ‘Julie (encephalitis)’ and ‘Alison (head injury)’ speak to the alienation of brain damage: ‘I would have liked to have known / My husband’s wife, my mother’s only daughter’ (from ‘Alison’).

Having set ‘After Visiting Hours’ recently as an essay topic, to be contrasted with Sylvia Plath’s ‘Tulips’, my thoughts have been much preoccupied with this beautiful poem in which a hospital becomes a refuge from the ‘calling gulls’ of visitors, in which staff and patients carefully dance their way through ‘Their repertoire of movements’. I hope Fanthorpe found her last days in a hospice as soothing as the environment she conjures up for the shuffling, glass-bodied patients in this poem.

Although I have mentioned some of the medical poems here, Fanthorpe wrote on a huge range of topics, from Shakespeare to pets, university life to Christmas. Many of them are suffused with a gentle humour, others are more sharply acerbic. I’ve never met a Fanthorpe poem I haven’t liked. I am glad to have been thinking so much of her during her final days. She came to public attention in 2003 as rival to Andrew Motion for Poet Laureate, but I still feel she is underrated. I'm confident that UA Fanthorpe will come to be remembered as one of our greatest poets.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Call for Papers: The Drew University Journal of Medical Humanities (DMH)

The Drew University Journal of Medical Humanities (DMH) is looking for submissions for its second edition on the topic of healthcare disparities.

Suggested threads include:
Health/illness/access to care and social disparities (e.g.: urban versus rural communities)
Health/illness/access to care and racial/ethnic disparities
Heath/illness/access to care and socioeconomic disparities
Health/illness/access to care and disparities with regard to other demographic information (e.g.: gender, age, etc.)
Healthcare as a right
Social justice v. market justice
Health care reform that might respond to or rectify the above disparities

We welcome discussions on these topics from the standpoints of bioethics, public health, medical anthropology, health policy, medical narrative, and history of medicine. As medical humanities is highly interdisciplinary, we encourage submissions from whatever your field of expertise. We hope this edition of DMH will offer a greater understanding of the issues that we face as a national community in trying to determine what health care justice encompasses.

Mission Statement:
The Drew University Journal of Medical Humanities (DMH) publishes peer-reviewed, original research of an interdisciplinary nature, aimed at breaking down conventional boundaries, bridging the gaps between the humanities, social science, technology, medical education, and public policy, and inviting an honest discussion about the human experience of illness and the need for a more humane approach to health care. DMH, like the field of Medical Humanities as a whole, is committed to infusing medical education and practice with ethical, historical, social, and cultural meaning. DMH engages and informs scholars across all disciplines, health care professionals, health care consumers, medical educators, and policy-makers. Giving a platform to a range of diverse voices, DMH publishes articles that advance the work of Medical Humanities in general as well as articles that focus on special issues or symposia topics. Submitted manuscripts undergo a rigorous peer-review and editorial procedure to ensure the academic integrity of all published work.

Please send a statement of intent to Managing Editors Elizabeth Fehsenfeld ( and Katie Grogan ( Manuscripts should be submitted no later than June 12, 2009 and will be reviewed by members of the editorial advisory board. Manuscripts should be formatted in Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, with one inch margins and twelve point font, and should be in the range of 2500 to 3500 words. All copy, including quotations, footnotes, and references should conform to the guidelines of the Chicago Manual of Style, Fifteenth Edition. Please include a cover sheet with: name, title, address, phone number, email address, affiliation. Submissions can be emailed to the managing editors or mailed to:
Editor—Drew University Journal of Medical Humanities
Caspersen School of Graduate Studies
Drew University
Madison, New Jersey 07940-4000

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Author talks at the Wellcome Collection

How exciting! The Wellcome Collection is starting a programme of author-led evenings, with writers coming to the Library to discuss their work. Both events are free, although booking in advance is advised to secure a place.

The first event on Thursday 23 April, 19.00-20.30 will feature Philip Hoare. In his 2001 book 'Spike Island', Philip Hoare drew on the resources of the Wellcome Library as part of his attempt to reclaim the memory of a vast Victorian military hospital at Netley (pictured above), on the shores of Southampton Water, close to where he grew up. In this lecture, Hoare will use archive images and film to re-imagine Netley's history through its ruins, and the disparate and sometimes surprising company of men and women who worked or visited there: from Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale to Almroth Wright, Wilfred Owen, Noel Coward and RD Laing. Details of the event, and how to book a free ticket, here.

The second will feature Mike Jay discussing his new work on Thomas Beddoes, 'The Atmosphere of Heaven'. on Thursday 21 May, 19.00-20.30. At the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol, founded in the closing years of the eighteenth century, dramatic experiments with gases precipitated a revolution not only in scientific medicine but also in the modern mind. Propelled by the energy of maverick doctor Thomas Beddoes, the Institution was both laboratory and hospital - the first example of a medical research institution. But when its researchers discovered the mind-altering properties of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, their experiments devolved into a pioneering exploration of consciousness, with far-reaching and unforeseen effects. Beddoes' papers were destroyed around the time of his death. Jay's latest work has drawn heavily on the remaining sources the Wellcome Library holds, including the journal Hygeia, and the 'Manual of Health' textbook to tell the story of Beddoes and the brilliant circle who surrounded him. The event will discuss the chaotic rise and fall of the Institution, and reveals for the first time its crucial influence - on modern drug culture, attitudes toward objective and subjective knowledge, the development of anaesthetic surgery, and the birth of the Romantic movement. Details here.