Tag Archives: medicine

Sci Fi

This month I am featuring poems by Martin Zarrop. We met some years ago through the Poetry School workshops and are also members of one of the Poetry Society’s Stanzas. I start by congratulating Martin: the 2021 Cinnamon Press Pamphlet competition got 450 submissions. The results came out a few days ago – Martin’s manuscript was in the top five!

Martin is a retired mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it. He started writing poetry in 2006 and has been published in various magazines and anthologies. He completed a MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University in 2011.

His pamphlet No Theory of Everything (2015) was one of the winners of the 2014 Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition and his first full collection Moving Pictures was published by Cinnamon in 2016. His pamphlet Making Waves on the life and science of Albert Einstein was published by V. Press in 2019. His second collection Is Anyone There? was published by High Window Press in March 2020.

The five poems are all from Is Anyone there? Where Martin’s poems refer to science, they do so in an accessible way, often poignant, often with humour. Like Martin, I first came to Manchester in the early 1980s – a place where now around 200 world languages are spoken. I hope you enjoy this selection.

Sci Fi

The aliens are coming.
I can see them flicker in the flames
as I stare into the coal fire
and my mother asks me if I’m happy.
Has she been taken over by Martians?
I must take care not to fall asleep.

And here I am covered in mud.
The invisible predator can’t see me
as I try to leave the exam room.
Failure isn’t an option but the exit signs
are hidden under ectoplasmic goo.
The ice cream man ignores my screams.

It is bursting out of my chest cavity,
this other me I don’t want to know.
Why is my name missing from the credits?
Perhaps I didn’t wait long enough for the Z’s.
Out in the foyer, zombies are waiting
for the next show.

First Impressions
Manchester 1980

People talk to you here
but not in English
and the rain is cold
on the grim streets
that run for their lives
past empty Victoriana,
lost empires.

At night, the city
strips to its bones, lies
unwashed in the glow
of fag ends, crushed
and dying among
claggy debris,
northern mouths.

published by The High Window

Missing

She must be in here somewhere.
He turns another page and stares
at shapes, the outline of a face
and almost smiles.
The hair’s not right, he says.

Under his thumb, images move,
some not even close to human.
This one looks like a centaur, this a lion.
He knows how much he wants her
but he struggles to join the dots.

Across the table, the astronomer,
sympathetic despite the late hour,
is accustomed to darker matters.
Try this one, he grunts, and opens
another star catalogue.

Hands

UK’s first double hand transplant awoke from
a 12-hour operation with two new sets of fingers

(Guardian 23.07.16)

It’s not like wearing leather gloves.
This is for real, the weld of tissue,
bone to severed stumps; white flesh
imbibes the ruddiness of life, then
shudders at an alien command –

a finger twitches. It displays no loyalty
to donor meat, no tear or thought,
no dumb relief not to be ash,
no memory of goodbye waves,
past loves held close.

The patient chews his nails,
flexes each knuckle as if born to it,
admires blotches, childhood scars
from scraps he never fought,
holds out his hands.

To My Nineties

You’d better get your skates on
or at least your boots
and get out there, old dribbler,
before it’s too late.

I may not meet you in the hills
struggling through Kinder peat.
Thirteen miles, fifteen?
No problem!

Or so I thought as hair thinned
and Christmas followed Easter
as if in a time machine
that ate old friends for breakfast.

You stand patient near the finish line
as I pull myself up for the final sprint.
Nothing lasts forever, not hips,
not brain cells. I need a project.

I’ll make you my project.
Wait for me.

Illness poems

Emma Press have recently put out a call for submissions of poems on Illness. The closing date for your submission (maximum of three poems and up to 65 lines each) is 31 August. To be able to submit you must have bought one printed book or e-book in this calendar year. Emma Press is an active small publisher with a range of anthologies, individual pamphlets and collections. So that one book could pay for several submissions. I will be submitting and have ordered Postcard stories, mini-stories about Belfast.

The editors are looking to “express the experience of illness right across the spectrum” and are “keen to uncover invisible symptoms, as well as unravel the stigma of mental illness”.

Signs and humours cover0001

I have Signs and humours: the poetry of medicine on the shelf. This anthology holds 100 poems written over the last 2,000 years and it includes subjects such as autism, infertility, pancreatitis. It was edited by Lavinia Greenlaw who commissioned 20 poets to write on a topic of their choice. The poets were then introduced to medical specialists on that subject (for example, PTSD, glaucoma, malaria, psoriasis). Since 1982 I have had tinnitus in my right ear, so David Harsent’s poem Tinnitus spoke to me; a short extract:

A single note drawn out
beyond imagining,
pitched for a dog or a rat
by a man with a single string
on a busted violin.

There are also poems about how we respond  when faced with a diagnosis. The first few lines from Raymond Carver’s What the Doctor Said:

He said it doesn’t’ look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them

There is Sharon Olds who accompanies her father to a meeting with the doctor who says that nothing more can be done: My father said /‘Thank you.’ And he sat motionless, alone,/with the dignity of a foreign leader.

Around AD 842, when he was paralysed, Po Chü-I wrote a short poem that ends:

All that matters is an active mind, what is the use of feet?
By land one can ride in a carrying chair, by water be rowed in a boat.

The anthology Signs and humours was published in 2007. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between this and the Emma Press Anthology. Will there be poems about eating disorders, body dysmorphia, internet addiction?