Patients inspire a neurologist to write poems that combine emotion and science

  • Apr. 12, 2017 12:30 a.m.

It’s not exactly accurate to describe Dawn McGuire as both a neurologist and a poet. Because that would imply those are two distinct, separate things. To her, the callings are intertwined.

Her 2013 book, “The Aphasia Café,” won an Indie Book Award for her treatment of how the brain loses language. Flip open her new collection, “American Dream With Exit Wound,” and it doesn’t take long to spot scientific terminology. But there’s nothing clinical about the emotions it evokes. Take this bit from the poem “Love in the Skilled Nursing Unit”:

“That’s when I’d give

“my temporal lobe,

“my hippocampus whole,

“for his cheap blue gown;

“to gaze upon that love again

“by which one is first made,

“inflamed, destroyed”

Inspiration for the book came from McGuire’s patients at her San Francisco clinic who are veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as from another poet with medical experience: Walt Whitman. In 1884, he wrote in the New York Times, “The tremendous war goes on. Every family has directly or indirectly some representative among the vast army of the wounded and sick.”

That quote, which also appears at the beginning of “American Dream With Exit Wound,” rang true to McGuire, who was seeing the suffering continue for those with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. The title poem is from the point of view of a warrior’s lover, searching for signs that’s he’s been shooting up. Here’s how it starts:

“She looks at belts differently now

“Not at the grain, the tool work.

“Not thinking what size for which waist

“She looks at where the holes are

“One punched out with a nail file

“a peeler, dug out with a stick

“blunt but strong enough

“to grind a hole in leather

“A hole too close to the buckle”

Just Posted

Christmas season in Red Deer begins with Festival of Trees

The kickoff to the Christmas season in Red Deer is upon us.… Continue reading

Judge allows Mr. Big evidence in murder trial

Two men accused of triple-murder admitted their involvement to undercover police

Red Deer agency supporting for LGBTQ2S+ youth

New report on LGBTQ2S+ youth from the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate

Four people arrested after gas and dash

Four people were arrested after an alleged gas and dash in two… Continue reading

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer: Nov. 19

Watch news highlights from the week of Nov. 13

Red Deer Christmas Bureau to help 1,300 children this year

Demand is high, but Red Deer always provides

CP Holiday train to stop in Ponoka for another year

The popular train will feature entertainment from Colin James and Emma-Lee

Kittens rescued after allegedly being tossed from vehicle

Couple finds abandoned kittens new home through Facebook

VIDEO: ‘Party bus’ goes up in flames in Vancouver

Fire crews responded to the late night blaze

Chicken crosses B.C. road, stops traffic

Rooster makes early morning commuters wait in Maple Ridge

Red Deerian honours her brother who died in a motorcycle collision

Houaida Haddad is encouraging Red Deer residents to donate blood

Red Deer County firefighters to be recognized for Waterton help

RCMP brass will give formal recognition Monday

Ron James tries to lighten humanity’s load through humour

The comedian returns to Red Deer for shows Dec. 1 and 2

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month