Physician encourages poetry

by Liz Bertko | 10/16/00 5:00am

"I have never seen a poem cause liver toxicity," joked Dr. Raphael Campo at a speech in Carpenter Hall on Friday. "Even a really bad one."

As the first speaker in the "Gaps and Overlaps" for Coming Out Month, Campo, a gay physician and poet, addressed what he thinks is a strong connection between poetry and healing.

"Some of my writer friends," Campo said in his speech, "particularly some poets, have written about their own experiences with dying and healing in a way that I think in some ways has really helped them deal with themselves."

A goal of his, he explained, is to study how poetry writing can cultivate empathy in relationships between both patients and doctors and doctors themselves.

He stressed that his poetry has enriched his practice of medicine, and that it has allowed him to embrace non-traditional healing methods, in addition to more traditional science.

Campo's presentation was characterized by poetry and essay readings, interspersed with commentary and personal views. A writer of two volumes of poetry and a book of essays entitled "The Poetry of Healing," he chose readings that ranged from short patient narratives to essays about topics like transexuality.

In a moment of candor, Campo elaborated on his own decision to become a doctor and the external pressures that affected this decision. While joking that the "worst thing of all was that I was a poet," on a more serious note he contended that being a part of both the Latino and gay community were "difficult" in the implementation of his goal.

He also spoke of his experience as both a gay and Latino minority member while studying at Amherst College. Although his family teased him about his sexual orientation, renaming Amherst's nickname "the fairest" college to the "fairiest," he reflected that "they knew something about me at that point that I wasn't quite ready to deal with myself."

After reading 13 poems and two essay excerpts, Campo concluded his lecture with "The X-Files," a humorous poem in which Campo states that "we search, we search for something that we think is killing us."

Gaps and Overlaps will continue throughout the year, with two presentations each term.