Third Meeting: Monday, 14 Nov. 2016: Fiction, Psychotherapy and Narrative Medicine

Next Meeting

Date and time: Monday, 14 Nov. 2016, 7 pm
Venue: Paradise Palms, 41 Lothian Street. (Across the street from Bristo Square)
Reading: On the theme of ‘fiction, psychoanalysis and narrative medicine’:
1) Coetzee, J.M. and Arabella Kurtz. The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy. Lodnon: Harvill Secker, 2015. (Excerpts: Chapters 1, 2, 5 and 6)
2) Coetzee, J.M. and Arabella Kurtz. ‘Nevertheless, My Sympathies are with the Karamazovs.’ Salmagundi nos.166-7. (Spring-Summer 2010): 39-72.
3) Holmes, Jeremy. ‘Narrative in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy: the Evidence?’ Medical Humanities 26.2 (Dec. 2000): 92-6.
4) Charon, Rita. Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. (Excerpts: Chapters 4 and 6).

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Second Meeting: Monday, 31 Oct. 2016: Selected Poems of Philip Larkin

Next Meeting:
Date and Time: Monday, 31 Oct. 2016, 7 pm
Venue: Teviot Library Bar
Reading: Selected poems of Philip Larkin (‘Skin’, ‘Faith Healing’, ‘Ambulances’, ‘The Old Fools’, ‘The Building’, ‘How’, ‘Heads in the Women’s Ward’, ‘Continuing to Live’, ‘The Mower’, and ‘Hospital Visits’).


First of all, a quick thank you to all those who could attend our last meeting for making it quite a riveting session. It is great to see new faces from different backgrounds, and we hope this will continue over the course of the year. Meanwhile, we look forward to new members attending (as well as old members coming back) over the course of the next few weeks. So please feel free to come along regardless of whether your background is in medicine, literary studies or any other field. Should you know anybody else who would be interested, please do spread the word, as all are indeed welcome. As always, we assume no previous knowledge for any of the discussions nor do we expect attendance at previous meetings, and we welcome diverse backgrounds.


A few quick housekeeping notes: firstly, many of our members would have noticed the readings for the last session were quite heavy, academic works (including one piece of academic philosophy true to the Anglo-American analytic tradition in its style and philosophical position). This is an experiment to try and expand what we discuss at the reading group and consider bigger theoretical and philosophical questions alongside our general reading of poetry or fiction, an experiment which, it would appear, worked really well. So for the next few sessions, I was thinking we could alternate between the heavy, theoretical/philosophical material and fiction or poetry work so as to get a nice variety of discussion. So for the next meeting, I am proposing a ‘light’ session of reading some poetry (more information below). As always, should you have any suggestions for readings, please feel free to get in touch.

Secondly, in terms of frequency of meetings, those who attended the last meeting thought of meeting every fortnight. We agreed that this was an appropriate interval, one which was not too steep a commitment and which gave us adequate time to prepare for meetings. Considering our availability and other commitments are fairly well-paced right now, we can meet at this pace. Depending on how things unfold over the course of the term, we can always revise this.

Finally, there is the perennial problem of time and venue. Generally, everyone who attended felt, after all the Doodle surveys, re-organising, planning and horse trading, Monday evenings works best (an irony which would not be lost on our regular members from the years before). I am also aware that this time is not suitable for many of our members. So for the time being, I suggest wecontinue to meet at 7 pm on Mondays. However if anybody who cannot make this time would like to propose an alternative time and venue, and if enough of our members are available for a meeting, then we can go about rescheduling.


Also, members are more than welcome (and indeed are urged) to suggest readings and/or themes for future meetings. If there is anything you would like to discuss, feel free to let me know and we can discuss it at a future meeting.


Next, the readings for the forthcoming session, I would like to propose we read a selection of poetry by Philip Larkin. The selection includes ‘Skin’, ‘Faith Healing’, ‘Ambulances’, ‘The Old Fools’, ‘The Building’, ‘How’, ‘Heads in the Women’s Ward’, ‘Continuing to Live’, ‘The Mower’, and ‘Hospital Visits’. I would like to suggest considering the representation of the body, illness, ageing, death and of medical practice in these poems, no poems in particular really, just have a read and see which ones most appeal to you. You will notice some seem less directly relevant to the theme of medicine than others. Still, I am hoping we can bring these different poems together with some degree of dialogue between them.

(If you would like help in getting hold of the readings, please get in touch.)

For the meeting after that (the next ‘heavy’ session), I was thinking of continuing our discussion of narrativity to focus specifically on the intersection between literary fiction and psychotherapy, looking in particular at a series of correspondences between the novelist J.M. Coetzee and the psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Arabella Kurtz. More on this at a later date.


Finally, if you have any questions about the Reading Group, any suggestions for things to read or would like to know more, feel free to get in touch via email or by commenting here. You can also find us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/315485175143288/).

‘Things Illness Stole’, a poem by Alex Reed

Things Illness Stole by Alex Reed

A beery dance to the B52s in that club down the Quay, then all the way back to your place in the west of the town we talked, afraid if we stopped we might see one another anew, with appraising eyes, the spell broken, but I knew it had held when my hand touched the curve of the small of your back and we came to the stairs, your unmade bed, vintage dresses scattered all across and your beads and sparkly tat strung over the mirror on the old chest of drawers you bought from the auction, and then the final mystery of you in the bathroom as I waited with one last smoke, and I saw that across the mirror you’d scribbled with scarlet lipstick, everything’s going to be alright.


Alex Reed is a family therapist, and carer for his partner who has multiple sclerosis. His poetry is concerned with themes of illness, loss and acceptance.

‘Dissociation’, a poem by Helena Durham

Dissociation by Helena Durham
Published in The Lumen, Issue 1, 2014

dis·so·ci·a·tion, n. The state of being disconnected; a short-term defence mechanism against trauma; a debilitating post-survival disorder.

to pack seaside t-shirts, pullover fleeces and unread books
to abandon the scent of pillow, the softness of rabbit’s ear
to be doing this grown-up thing

to take the train
to feel it pick up the heart beat
to lose a city, become blind to its name on the route map

to inhale salted air
to exhale six hours of accumulated nothing

to see an estuary mouth, to consider its width, its tides
to fear its swallow and the lack of land
to rub the right hand on white wash, the left on pastel stucco
to fish for the name of this village

to remember in moments of being here
     where there is
to wish the flip-flops had not been forgotten
to take photos of Pinky Murphy’s
with its knitting-for-all basket, its clotted cream tea
to say this is the warmest place in Fowey in July
to make a transient discovery: memory is a flickering light bulb

to plunge into darkness
to be fog over the sea

to trust this is the day to leave
to read the ticket’s destination, to follow instructions
     saying change, change, change

to wash up at some station, unable to make sense
     of the next reservation

to have sufficient presence to ring
to hear her voice saying
     New Street? Then you’re in Birmingham.
     Look for the train to Nottingham.
     Platform 11? One foot, then the other.

     Breathe, breathe gently.
     Ring once you’re home.

to be conveyed
to compare steam from the cooling towers with clouds
     over the bay on Wednesday
to stroke the pebble pocketed for its smoothness on Thursday

to rummage for the door key, to be tickled by beach sand
     from the paddle on Friday
to be familiar with the click of the door
     in the warmth of red brick

to sip hot chocolate from a favourite mug
to snuggle up with pillow, to stroke rabbit’s ear
to close down

to wake up, to check the calendar
to wonder why a line was drawn through last week

to shrug
to shop, because the milk has gone off


Helena Durham is an undergraduate studying for a BA (Hons) in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Nottingham. A former nurse, and a trauma survivor, she is interested in how writing and mindfulness can encourage personal and community well-being.

‘Blood Libel’, a poem by Tracey S. Rosenber

Blood Libel by Tracey S. Rosenberg
Published in The Lumen, Issue 1, 2014.

You loved my body
all the lecks and nicks and scabs of me,
the lumps you brushed with your stubby ingers
as you argued away possible malignancies.
You shrugged when I explained
the disorders of my great-great-grandmother,
dirty inbred cells churning through the shtetl
and riding her bloodstream till they latched
so deeply in her uterus she couldn’t give life
without passing them on.

It’s a mystery.
It’s a long, long story.

Of course, I in my own personal diaspora
never opened my suburban front door to ind
a baby’s drained corpse speared to the welcome mat.
I would never call myself a martyr to religion.

You, on the other hand, would have been smarter
to learn from history. Remember the ones who couldn’t
get the hell out of Europe? Who didn’t know
what was coming,
or assumed such things don’t happen nowadays,
not when we’re so modern,
not so Jewish anymore?

I’m sorry, love, to have kept from you
how many ways you’d be burdened
not simply with me
vomiting in the car, handles in the shower –
but generations of my cancer-riddled family.
I thought I’d assimilated enough.


Tracey S. Rosenberg is the author of the historical novel The Girl in the Bunker (2011) and a poetry pamphlet, Lipstick is Always a Plus (2012). Her poems have been published in a variety of journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association.