In this outstanding debut pamphlet, Emma Storr, medic and poet, gives us a masterclass in how to write about medicine.
Equally at home writing about the personal or the professional, she shows us the experience of the patient as well as the doctor. I loved ‘Delivery’ with its calm account of the experience of an emergency section from the mother’s point of view. In this twin delivery
‘Midnight slipped between their births,
the witching hour split in two.’
Elsewhere, we see the GP’s human side when a patient ‘took off half her face’ and placed it on the desk. She admits to ‘my own repulsion/ veiled with fascination’.
‘Six-week Check’ is one of two poems placed in the Hippocrates Prize and deservedly so. We feel we are examining the infant with the poet who notes ‘your baked cub-like scent’ and seems moved anew by this new life in her hands, though ending on a humorous note ‘We won’t need to meet again.’
Humour, too, in the beautifully controlled anger behind the poem ‘Clinical Trials’ in which she forensically examines a relationship in technical language which breaks down at the end of each stanza with the words ‘you bastard’. The poem ends
‘You did not have ethics approval.
Your control group was out of control.
Your random sampling was not so bloody random.
The revenge is sweet and this one goes down particularly well at readings!
I loved the title poem, ‘Heart Murmur’ for its intelligent and effective mix of the clinical and the emotional in delicately controlled couplets.
‘My heart doesn’t have to think.
It works on impulse: squeeze, relax.
It speeds up when I climb hills,
slow dances during sleep
until it’s hijacked, slewed by lust,
the chemicals of longing’
There is emotion in the job, too. Doctors make mistakes and there is real sadness and empathy in ‘Missed’
‘I prescribed you medicine.
I didn’t think when you told me.
The scan shocked us both.
I am a bad doctor. I failed you.’
There is a generosity about the sharing of such experiences as well as those poems in which the poet turns her observant eye onto herself, as in ‘Your Skin’ which is a beautiful and honest look at a woman’s life through the changes which take place in her skin;
‘History is seared
in its layers
the half-moon burn
the white tracks of
your babies’ escape
that burst appendix’
Honesty, too, in rueful reflections on the limitations of what a GP can do for her patients
‘Every ten minutes
a patient leaves
gripping a script
pills, placebos –
I didn’t want to sign.’
There is a wide variety of form in this collection too and a sureness of touch which promises great things when Emma Storr brings out a full collection. I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime I really recommend sampling her work in this excellent pamphlet. Read it. You will be in safe hands.
Carole Bromley lives in York. Winner of 2019 Hamish Canham Award, she has a new collection due out from Valley Press in 2020 and a pamphlet, Sodium 136, will be published by Calder Valley Poetry in November. http://www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk Twitter @CaroleBromley1
Order your copy of Heart Murmur by Emma Storr (Calder Valley Poetry) here: https://caldervalleypoetry.com/authors/emma-storr/