CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) - There’s a story behind every poem, and here’s the story behind Michael Wynn’s very first poem:
Wynn, a Corvallis resident who practices neurology in Salem, was seeing a patient, “a delightful woman with a delightful husband,” who was describing what she thought was a relatively minor problem.
“In about five minutes of listening to her,” Wynn recalled in a recent interview, “I realized oh, this is a very bad problem. It’s not because I’m super-smart - every neurologist has had this experience.”
He assured the patient that he would call her as soon as he saw results of her MRI, but he was pretty sure he knew the diagnosis. He went to lunch. When he left the restaurant, he realized he had double-parked and approached his car, certain that he’d find a ticket waiting for him.
“I looked, and there was no ticket,” Wynn said. “And I thought, ‘how lucky am I?’ At that moment, I thought, wait, I’m saying I’m lucky because I’m not getting a parking ticket, and in 30 minutes, I’m going to call this lady about her brain tumor. That was the moment. It just struck me: I’ve got to work with this, I have to do something with this, write this down or something, that moment of realization, of perspective.”
Wynn wrote the first draft of that poem - “That Moment” - on a napkin. It was among the first poems he published.
Since that moment in 2008, Wynn has continued to combine his two professions.
And he finds that poetry and medicine help to inform each other: The poetry makes Wynn a better doctor, and the precision required by medicine turns out to be good for the poetry.
The poetry, Wynn said, “encourages me to listen even closer to patients. I think it makes me even more observant.” And the precise language required by medicine (Wynn recalled being fascinated by a junior high teacher who taught him that every bone in the body has its own specific name) obviously can apply to poetry, which puts on a premium on the exact right word in the exact right place.
And, of course, his practice provides plenty of raw material for the poetry, although not all of his poems revolve around medicine.
Age and what Wynn called “the capriciousness of health” are frequent topics.
“I see - and every doctor has - hundreds of patients who do not smoke, exercise, they eat right, they do everything right, and they come down with devastating illness. The phrase I like to use is, our molecules do not care about us. They do not care about us. And that is just interesting to me.”
If that sounds blunt, Wynn, 57, understands: “Life and health is blunt and black-and-white, many times, but he also hopes another message comes across in his poems: “Live every day. . Get as much out of life while you can. And to me, writing and the arts are one way to get stuff out of life.”
In fact, it’s not uncommon for physicians to make their mark in an artistic field, whether it be music, writing, visual arts. And it’s a message he hopes to convey to other practitioners, in particular younger doctors just starting their careers: “I just think art and medicine are very complementary,” he said, “and anyone practicing medicine will do themselves a great favor by exploring one of the arts and relating it to their practice.”
If you were to visit Wynn’s office, you wouldn’t see any of his poetry on display, but there’s a clue to his artistic side: In the spot where patients typically would find month-old editions of magazines, Wynn has scattered a variety of poetry chapbooks: “I don’t keep my poetry in the office,” he said. “I do have other books of poetry in the office, and people are welcome to take them, actually.”
Later this year, if he so chose, Wynn could add his first book to that collection of chapbooks: “Bodies of Evidence,” featuring 25 poems, is due to be published in July.
Wynn, who puts great stock in frequent rewriting and revision, admits to being a little ambivalent about some of the older poems in “Bodies of Evidence.”
“Robert Frost once said ‘We don’t finish poems, we abandon them,’ and that’s kind of how I feel about some of these poems, I’ve just abandoned them.”
But he continues to chip away at new poems, and he sees some differences between the poet he is today and the person who scribbled that first poem on a napkin in 2008: “I’m much more patient. I take much more time with the poems. I have learned not to be so subjective. Most readers, nobody knows me, they don’t really care about Michael Wynn, so if the poem’s all about Michael Wynn’s experiences, that’s not interesting to the reader. . It’s about the poem, it’s not about the author.”
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