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The poetry of medicine

  • Season: Season 2
  • Posted On:
  • Featuring: Sean Collings

We explore the poetics of medicine and the medicine in poetry with poet-physician Patrick Clary, M.D.; Redwing Keyssar, RN; and Ira Byock, M.D. "Poetry holds a mirror up to us. It helps us understand what has just happened," says Clary.

We explore the poetry of medicine by offering two conversations. In the first, Dr. Ira Byock talks with Dr. Patrick Clary about his poetry, why he writes it, how he uses it, and why it matters.

"I don't see it as a medical practice so much as a humane practice for us as we do medicine; to maintain our way of looking at our patients as people."

    —Dr. Patrick Clary in conversation with Dr. Ira Byock



Then host Seán Collins talks with palliative care clinician Redwing Keysaar about the poetry workshops she's been hosting online during the pandemic. What began as a way for people to process their grief has become a way to get in touch with un-tapped creativity and strengths.

"We forget so many of the healing modalities that are with us all the time and that have been part of the various cultures that many of us come from. Dr. Rachel Remen says, "We may have lost faith in our ability to write poems just as we have lost faith in our ability to heal. Recovering the poet strengthens the healer and sets free the unique song that's at the heart of each life."

   —Redwing Keysaar, RN in conversation with Seán Collins



Patrick L Clary, M.D.  has long used poetry as a tool in his effort to understand, practice, and teach medicine. His work has appeared in anthologies and in two collections, Notes for a Loveletter and Dying for Beginners. A conscientious objector on the basis of Quaker beliefs, he served as a medic with US Infantry Units in Vietnam 1969-70. He is past President of the New Hampshire Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and remains clinically active in end-of-life care as medical director of a community hospice house.


Ira Byock, M.D., FAAHPM, is a leading medical authority and public advocate for improving care through the end of life. He is founder and serves as chief medical officer of the Providence Institute for Human Caring. The Institute drives transformation in clinical systems and culture to make caring for whole persons the new normal. The Institute for Human Caring’s change strategies produce measurable and scalable improvements in healthcare quality and efficiency. Dr. Byock's books include The Best Care Possible  and The Four Things That Matter Most.



Redwing Keysaar, RN is a palliative care clinician, author, poet, educator, national presenter, and frequent contributor to the public conversation about palliative and end-of-life care. Redwing is currently the director of Patient and Caregiver Education at the MERI Center for Education in Palliative Care (Making Education Relevant and Integrated) for Primary Palliative Care Education  at the Mt. Zion Campus of the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author of The Last Acts of Kindness.


  • Seán Collins
  • Ira Byock MD
  • Patrick Clary MD
  • Redwing Keysaar RN


  • healing modalities
  • self-care
  • poems
  • poetry
  • poetry and medicine