Imaginative Medicine: Thinking Creatively about Poetry, Illness, and Pain
Jill S Kuhnheim
Brown University, US
Jill S. Kuhnheim is a Professor Emerita from the University of Kansas and a Visiting Professor in Hispanic Studies at Brown University. Her areas of interest include contemporary Latin American literature, particularly poetry; gender and feminist studies; and healthcare humanities in a Latin American context. Her most recent books include Teaching Modern Latin American Poetries (MLA Press, 2019 coedited with Melanie Nicholson) and Para vivir con salud: Leyendo la salud y la literatura, an Open Access Educational Web book co-authored with Kathryn J. McKnight, available at: https://opentext.ku.edu/paravivir/
This essay examines poems from the books Via Corporis by Mexican poet Pura López-Colomé (1952-) and Harm by U.S. poet Hillary Gravendyk (1979-2014), which offer two different contemporary examples of lyric poetry’s engagement with pain and illness. In each case these poets demonstrate how pain as constructed in the lyric creates its own language, its own poetic corpus or relationship to the body, and distinct approaches to broader cultural contexts. In complementary ways these two poets use their imaginative voices to embody or give form to and create empathy for experiences of illness that, while to some degree universal, may often be side- stepped or considered unrepresentable. These poets’ work illustrates how poetic language can communicate beyond narrative, opening other avenues to express and understand pain. Gravendyk and Lopez Colomé extract what happens in the physical realm and through the use of image, sound, perspective, word play, and figurative language, to construct enigmatic poems that surprise and perhaps challenge existing representations of illness and pain.