Curing the ills of others and their own words.

Curing the ills of others and their own words.

“The doctor saves lives, the poet saves lives,” writes Ouanessa Younsi in the book’s preface. the lab of angels, by Philippe More. Crossed portraits of three doctors for whom poetry allows them to better listen to the shadows that are in them, like those that inhabit their patients.

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sunday afternoon

sunday afternoon

The poet saves life, really? “What I want to say is that poetry keeps us in something alive, it gives us the sensation of existing. And to be a caregiver, to be a human being, it is still a plus to have this feeling”, says the poet and psychiatrist Ouanessa Younsi in a rather euphemistic formula. “Everyone benefits from finding this feeling within themselves, and art is a medium for it. »

That a doctor can thus have such a double identity generates astonishment, however. A surprise sometimes even mixed with mockery. “The question I get asked the most is: ‘How do you write poetry when you’re a doctor?’ “, Confirms Mélanie Béliveau, a family doctor in Sherbrooke, who launched her first collection in August 2021, in the belly of the windbut that he had been writing since childhood.

She is surprised by the lack of recognition this hit has received in her community, yet her collection has garnered rave reviews. “Maybe there’s a misunderstanding or a judgment about that: ‘Oh, okay, she, she has time to write poetry, while we take care of the real business.’ »


The poet and psychiatrist Ouanessa Younsi

Writing has also accompanied Ouanessa Younsi since childhood. If he turned to medicine it was to honor his good academic results and the hopes of his immigrant father. Psychiatry will challenge him because it is “a discipline of the gray zone, of listening, of language. Psychiatry is actually a way of listening that goes beyond language. You have to listen to the shadows. And poetry does that too: listen to the shadows in us”, explains the man to whom we owe four collections (including Mixed Y we are not fairieswith Louise Dupré), as well as an essay, take care love (2016), rich in reflections on the fruitful tensions between the two poles of his existence.

Today, he borrows the words of Miron to describe this combination of psychiatry and poetry that makes the heart of his daily life beat as a “struggle for reconciliation”, necessarily limiting the time medicine can devote to writing.

Avoid categories

It quickly became clear to Philippe More that it would be better to continue writing together with his medical profession, and not the other way around, which would have been impossible. “Perhaps even illegal”, jokes the one whose collection the lab of angelswhich earned him the Émile-Nelligan award in 2010, has recently been reissued in paperback format.

If he always preferred to erect a partition between the doctor and the poet, so that one does not look everywhere in his verses for the gown and the disease, this generous collection of insoluble questions about the role of the doctor is the only one of his work that transfers to your reader to the corridors of the hospital, where you spend your days as an ER doctor.

“I have already been told that my poetry is not very political and what I answer is that one of the great problems of our time is that tendency we have to lock people into categories,” he says.


The poet and emergency doctor Philippe More

To show, in my other books, that I can have an original point of view on other subjects that have nothing to do with medicine, for me is a political statement, it is to show that people cannot be pigeonholed.

Philip More

to learn to read

For our three medical poets, it is undeniable: their literary practice is enriched by their medical practice, and vice versa. To those who once reproached him for wasting time with that – which disdainfully designates poetry – Philippe More replies that he would not have the energy to work as much as a doctor if he had to restrain “this part of [lui] who writes “. “Poetry allows me to give meaning to what sometimes no longer has it”, he sums up.

But beyond these benefits in terms of strictly personal development, the emergency room doctor at the Haut-Richelieu hospital points out that poetry, both the one he writes and the one he reads, sharpens his relationship with language. At least 90% of the information that guides a diagnosis, he emphasizes, is based on his reading of the story that his patient unpacks, not on what his stethoscope writes down. In short: a therapeutic relationship always begins with words.

He has also been interested for several years in narrative medicine, an approach described by the American academic Rita Charon as “a medicine practiced with a narrative competence that allows to recognize, absorb, interpret and be moved by the stories of the disease”. ”.

There are many reading skills that you develop when you put yourself in the place of another character, another subjectivity, that are very useful in clinical practice. We can probably hear the subtleties of what the person tells us better if we are good readers.

Philip More


The poet and psychiatrist Ouanessa Younsi

“The poem, for me, is a space of humility,” says Ouanessa Younsi. The poem keeps me in a space of not knowing, of not judging. The language knows more than me. There are many things in myself and in the world that I do not know and it is by writing that I will discover them. And that is also psychiatry. Accepting listening to the other is accepting not knowing. Literature helps me stay in this zone of uncertainty. »

There is also, on the contrary, a real knowledge —“a knowledge of subjectivity and emotion”— that is extracted from literature. “I have a much better idea of ​​borderline personality disorder by reading Limit [roman de Marie-Sissi Labrèche] only consulting the clinical criteria. »


Mélanie Béliveau, poet and family doctor

And the opposite movement also occurs. All the stories that are deposited in Mélanie Béliveau shape the poet that she is. “What the patients experience, what the patients tell us, is so hot, so intense, she watches her. We are in a very special intimacy. I want, I don’t want, we absorb all of that. And since I’m a sensitive person, when I come home, it stirs me up inside. I often had trouble getting that to the mat and writing was my outlet. »

Listen to others, listen to yourself

Rare moment of convergence between their two worlds, the lab of angels, a collection entirely written in the second person, will also have allowed Philippe More to name the ambiguity of the doctor-patient relationship. An ambiguity that poetry knows how to translate “better than other literary genres”.

This relationship, “is a lot”, I am with you in the disease, but I am not completely with you, I am on the side. I participate in their care, but above all I am the organizer of the care. I sympathize with you, but I am not in your skin. The challenge in medicine is that in order to make a diagnosis you have to label the symptoms and the people, but at the same time you must never forget the individuality of the situation. »


Philippe More, poet and emergency doctor

“My mentor always told me, ‘You have to find something you like about the patient in order to help them,'” recalls Ouanessa Younsi. But for there to be this other to love, there must first be a self. Poetry allows me to listen to what is going on inside of me, my weaknesses. Literature is for me a reminder of this shared humanity, a reminder that I could be in the patient’s chair. »

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#Curing #ills #words

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