In honor of National Poetry Month, Touro Libraries will introduce a Touro professor who is also a poet, every week for the rest of the month of April. Our first pick is Dr. Mark Teaford, Vice Chair of the Department of Basic Science and Coordinator of Fundamentals of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University California.
Keep reading to see what led Dr. Teaford to the path of becoming a poet, what kind of poems he is composing, and if reading and writing poetry can play a role in the education of medical students.
I’ve always been interested in many things, and I’ve been lucky to channel some of that interest into scientific research. However, by its very nature, scientific research usually involves a series of very narrow questions and answers ultimately building towards a greater understanding of bigger issues. As an undergraduate, I was intrigued by poetry as a means of thinking “outside the box” – a way to open my eyes to far different perspectives, on far more issues. It was also frustrating because poets often seemed to assume that readers had membership in a literary “club” to which I apparently didn’t belong. There were just too many references to people and places and concepts that I simply couldn’t put into context. So I kept it in the back of my mind and occasionally came back to it when I had the time and inclination.
Meanwhile, I was fortunate to teach anatomy and biological anthropology to undergraduate and graduate/professional students, which prompted me to keep reading while keeping all of life’s “busyness” in proper perspective – to not forget about the humanity of everyday life. That led me back into short forms of poetry and ultimately English versions of the various Japanese forms known as haiku, senryu, and tanka. Yes, there were still occasional references to seasonal words (“kigo”) I didn’t understand, but in the writing of people like Alan Pizzarelli, Jane Reichhold, and John Stevenson, I found voices I could understand – voices that spoke about everything and anything – voices that didn’t tell readers what to think, but voices that got people thinking. They and their works encouraged me to speak in a voice that wasn’t just tied to impact factors and citation indices.
So poetry, to me, is two things: (1) an encouraging reminder that every voice counts (because you never know where your next insight will come from), and (2) an affirmation that the entire world is our priority (we need to cultivate awareness in everyone). In medical school, we speak about fostering traits like wellness, resilience, and mindfulness. The reading and writing of poetry can cater to all of that and more.
Contributed by Dr. Mark Teaford, Professor & Vice Chair of Basic Sciences, Touro University, California.
Click here to read some of Dr. Teaford’s poems available on Touro Scholar. (For full-text poems, click on titles 3 to 6).