Monday, April 2, 2012
It'll Ease the Pain by Frank J. Edwards, MD
The poems and stories in this collection range far and wide, from a vision of life through the eyes of an emergency physician, to the
Vietnam War, to a rooftop during a snow storm, to reminiscences of strange uncles, to parenting, to the disintegration of a marriage on a surrealistic roller coaster somewhere in Mexico, and much more.
Like William Carlos Williams, Edwards brings the wisdom of the clinic to these lyrical poems and gritty short stories. -- Joseph J. Fins, MD, FACP, Chief, Division of Medical Ethics, Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
By drawing us into these 23 pieces, the author connects with the reader on a deep but accessible & personal level. -- Paul DesOrmeaux, English Department, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY.
This is a marvelous collection of poems and short stories. The title story "It'll Ease the Pain" paints a portrait of one doctor's 24-hour stint that is fresh and unforgettable. This book is filled with fascinating vignettes, delivered by a master wordsmith -- H.H. Gregory, Asheville, North Carolina
I have something kind of different for you today.
A few months ago, a reviewed Dr. Edwards' Final Mercy, a medical suspense that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. One of the reasons I liked it so much was the great, lyrical prose, so I was not at all surprised to find that Edwards also had a book of poetry and short stories.
I have a bit of a sweet-tooth for poetry. I have always liked it, always identified with it, always been able to express myself with it. Since I started writing novels two years ago, I haven't written any new poetry, and so reading It'll Ease the Pain was like drinking a class of cool fresh...I would say water, but I sort of hate water, so like drinking a tall glass of milk over ice with a delicious meal. It's always my first inclination when I read a poem to critique it, to break it apart and find the layers of intended meaning, and then to put it back together to find what it means to me. I'm going to spare you all that (and besides, there is way too much material here to work with), and just highlight some of my favorite things.
Samuel Coleridge said something like Prose is the best use of words. Poetry is the best use of the best words (I know I'm totally misquoting). In It'll Ease the Pain, Edwards uses an insightful, deliberate use of the best words to express his thoughts.
See, poems don't simply tell a story or paint a picture. Instead, they illume single ideas and evoke complex emotions.
I particularly like this in Uncle Tony. Edwards tells us about
"the fifth of seven sons...
who worked for fifty years
washing sheets and pajamas
in the basement laundry of a hospital"
and who was the
"solo Catholic in our Lutheran family...
and who badly wanted a midnight
Christmas Eve mass
and who is going to get it."
(I kind of butchered that up for brevity)
Beautiful snapshot of Tony, but I think so much of the meaning in the poem (for those of you who read a poem, furrow your brow, and say, "Okay, but what does it mean?") lies in answer to the question, "Why is the author going to see that Uncle Tony gets to Christmas Eve mass?"
Edwards creates memorable images with his clever descriptions. The first poem in the book (and I love that it was placed first) is called Cocaine. It's about an addict in withdrawal in the emergency room.
"Wanting sleep, I am combing through the
of tempests passed,
when he sails by me
in a wheelchair.
His head thrown back,
his face tear-streaked--
his hands balled into a single fist,
he rhythmically bilge pumps
of his breast,
And certain if he stops
Not an image that you just forget. You can't help but feel sorry for the guy, but do you feel more sorry for him or for the guy who is combing through charts? Which one are you more like?
Another image I just loved was in the poem Apples.
"I open the door in August
to the smell of cider...
...but its wizened skin
offers no resistance to my teeth,
the fruit itself like wet sand..."
About apples or about something else entirely? Things go bad or die or fizzle out when you don't tend to them as you should. What have you been leaving undone?
There are eighteen poems and five stories, which are also quite good. Edwards is completely on par with many of the great modern poets, and if you like poetry or short stories at all, I highly recommend It'll Ease the Pain.