Valerie Gillies: To My Surgeon

While my love for a particular Scottish poet is (or should be) well known, Edwin Morgan is one of many amazing poets from Caledonia.

Valerie Gillies, Edinburgh’s second Makar (or poet laureate) certainly deserves mention. With a disarming simplicty, Gillies manages to hit on some amazingly deep topics. Some context for “To My Surgeon” (from The Scottish Poetry Library):

To celebrate the Quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, twenty-one Scottish poets were commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library to write poems inspired by the College’s collections and work. Like surgeons they have used ‘the hand that sees’, but in this case the writing hand that acts at the prompting of insight and imagination. The poems and their comments, alongside photographs of items that inspired them, were published in The Hand that Sees: Poems for the quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, edited by Stewart Conn, and published by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in association with the Scottish Poetry Library in 2005.

Author’s note:

This poem was sparked by one exhibit: the jar containing a mounted specimen of invasive lobular carcinoma. I was reluctant to look at it, but curious at the same time. The poem says what it feels like to be the patient who realises that mammogram and biopsy have missed the cancer and that it has gone undetected for a long time. I owe my life to a surgeon who was sharp-eyed and persistent enough to diagnose this particular cancer.

To My Surgeon

No-one else sees me
drowning in the white wave
sprinkled with a terrible salt

invasive lobular carcinoma
is difficult to identify

but you take one look
and I am 

held 
by your hand
saving my life

Curious about April’s other poems? Check out the first National Poetry Month post for a full list.

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