We drove past Bellevue on our bus-top tour of New York. It's America's oldest hospital, ivy-covered, venerable, haunted. It bears a name almost synonymous with madness, but it also handles injury, maternity, malady, vagrancy. And, unbeknownst to our bus-top tour guide, Jose, it publishes a Literary Review. The editors describe Bellevue as a “witness to nearly three centuries of human drama," and their Review as “a forum for illuminating humanity and human experience." They publish fiction, nonfiction and poetry about illness, health, and healing, which, as far as human experience goes, about covers it.
Editor-in-Chief Danielle Ofri, a doctor at Bellevue and a professor at NYU, writes about the burgeoning use of poetry and literature in medicine, and her own use of poetry with her patients as a way of disarming and reframing the experience of being ill, helping patients split apart by illness find their way back to wholeness. I had come across Rachel Naomi Remen already, a doctor who's pioneered holistic healing and emotional engagement of doctor and patient. But literature and medicine strikes me as a particularly apt pairing: poetry as the richest expression of human being, and human suffering; the humanities at work in and on humans.
Around the time that Bellevue's old bricks were first laid one upon another, the Enlightenment struck the human enterprise and scattered its flocks. I like the thought that science now finds its complement in art. I like the thought that the human being, dissected on Enlightenment's table, is recompacting, reforming, finding its way back to wholeness. Poetry heals reason's wounds.