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Poetry and Medicine Conference to be Held at Duke

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- "Vital Lines, Vital Signs: A Conference on Poetry & Medicine" will be held April 23-25 by the Center for the Study of Medical Ethics and Humanities at Duke University Medical Center.

The conference will assemble health-care professionals, poets and scholars to investigate the connections among illness, health, suffering, recovery and the writing and reading of poetry.

"Medicine and poetry have similar goals," said Francis A. Neelon, M.D., a Duke physician who helped spearhead the conference. "Both are concerned with story and metaphor. Doctors in their work with patients undertake a complex and often only partially understood task: to hear the patient's story, to bridge the symbolic gap between suffering and disease, and to sense the deep emotional currents underlying every patient's distress. Poetry gives expression to these experiences."

The media is invited to attend the conference, which will look at uses of poetry in medical practice, the influence of medical themes on poetry, and the connections between the two worlds of science and art. Nearly 70 submissions will be presented that focus on poetry in medical training, writing and the healing process, the language of pain and the body as text. Other papers will examine the role of metaphor in medical diagnosis, the experience of illness, the need for empathy and the desire to offer testimony.

The conference will include panel discussions, workshops, scholarly presentations and open poetry readings. It will take place at the Millennium Hotel in Durham.

A public reading -- free and open to the public -- also will be part of the conference. Poet Lucille Clifton, who has survived kidney failure, dialysis, a kidney transplant and three cancers, will read from her work at 8 p.m. April 24 in the Bryan Center's Reynolds Auditorium at Duke. She has published numerous books of poetry, including "Blessing the Boats," for which she received the National Book Award for Poetry in 2000.

For more information, visit the conference's Web site at http://poetryandmedicineconference.mc.duke.edu.

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The Center for the Study of Medical Ethics and Humanities was established to provide an interdisciplinary forum where physicians and scholars can examine questions at the intersection of medicine, ethics and the humanities. The center examines a broad spectrum of issues from emerging challenges in bioethics to the history and philosophy of medicine. The center also works to ensure that ethics and the humanities are a part of the medical school curriculum, sponsors research ethics training, a "humanities in medicine" lecture series and activities such as documentary exhibitions and regular roundtable discussions.

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