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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 12:15 pm

Medicine meets literature

SIU’s literary magazine brings together the best of both worlds


“Neon Lights” by John Godwin, M.D., Department of Internal Medicine/SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute at SIU.

A humorous quote by author and physician Anton Chekhov is on the introduction page to SCOPE, SIU School of Medicine’s 17th annual literary magazine: “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other.”

With the caliber of work found in this year’s journal, I’d say most of its contributors – SIU students, faculty and friends – spend more time with their mistresses and misteresses than spouses. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Take, for example, the three top winning entries in visual art, poetry and prose. Each excels. “Palette of a Poster Child” by Michael R. Pranzatelli, M.D., is a painting that graces the cover of the 44-page saddle-stitched chapbook. The face and eyes of the blonde-haired child hauntingly fill with both hope and pain, mimicked by exposing half the face in light and diminishing the other in shadow. Pranzatelli’s use of color is interesting too, though the cover color fails to highlight the artwork to its fullest.

The first place prize in poetry went to Kate Hawley for her poem, Amazons. The story behind the piece is simple. The narrator’s sister has breast cancer; the narrator will do anything to save her sister’s life. What is not so simple is the diction and tone that emotes this poem to the point that the reader connects and feels deeply the pain, anguish, desperation and hope of both sisters.

Here’s a brief look at how this works. In the poem, the narrator’s sister’s breast is “bad,” not cancered or sick. By selecting the word “bad” over other choices, the poet placed memory into the word. What I mean by memory is that the reader reads multiple meanings into the word. So the breast connotes as “bad” like rotten tomatoes or “bad” as spoiled food, or “bad” as a child – unruly, uncontrollable and nasty. All the negative ways the reader has used the term “bad,” and all the “bad” experiences in their lives mix into the image of the breast. One associates and then smells and sees rotten potatoes or feels the frustration of a screaming child. Likewise, other general terms that have loaded meanings invade the poem, such as the words “knife,” “poisons” and “sheets.”

Cover art is Palette of a Poster Child by Michael R. Pranzatelli, M.D.
First place in prose went to And in Chicago… written by Sumi Rebeiro, a medical student. This very short piece looks and sounds more like a poem to me (maybe there weren’t enough prose entries), but it is still a magical aural moment painted in words. The speaker hears a thousand bells and is clueless as to what they are, when at last he realizes the sound emanates from the “metal blocks on the limp halyards, tapping against the bard masts.” The last two images, and language used to get the images, are lovely as the origin of the mystery sound is described by the narrator. The “soothing murmur of the boats, talking in their sleep,/ gentling the wind and waves and each other./ It followed us as we turned away.”

It amazes me that so many people work on this magazine. The editors hail from Chillicothe, Peoria, Ohio, Texas, South Pekin and places I haven’t heard of. They work together well. For those who hang out with both medicine and literature, submissions to SCOPE are accepted from October to December. To read past issues and find rules and entry forms visit siumed.edu/oec/SCOPE.

Anita Stienstra, Illinois Times calendar editor, is editor of Adonis Designs Press and The Maze. She is also Springfield Poets and Writers president and a published poet. 

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