Friday, April 22, 2011

Footnote To Pharmacy

About halfway into my somnambulance as a pharmacist I discovered some choices within the choice I had made. I found my satisfaction in that special relationship with customers/patients. It is unique to see the same people at regular intervals over a period of years, knowing what keeps them alive, literally, and yet not quite knowing them personally. I got to know many of them in ways unrelated to their medications.

At the same time the definition of what a pharmacist does had changed from dispenser to consultant. We were allowed to have ancillary help who could also count to 30 while we would discuss the use, cautions and management associated with the meds. This was the human interchange that lifted me out of the confined space and woke up my senses.

I had grown weary staring down apothecary jars or trying to coax the mystery out of elixirs. I experienced the person standing on the other side of the counter, the troubles, anxieties, ways of coping and, at times, their full dimension.  It was enough that I offered my listening ear.

This was my portal out of that petty space. I discovered poetry by the late seventies gradually finding my voice which grew organically out of my life as a merchant/pharmacist along with all the other cargo I carried.

I started writing what would pass for poetry. I attended a workshop around 1976 run by a respected poet with well-established writers. After a year at it I left and was told that I had yet to write a poem. The leader, Alvarro Cardona-Hine, insisted that a poem cannot be willed, that it comes intuitively, unbidden. I feel strongly both ways. The idea can be deliberate but the lines come from a confrontation with my unknowing and the transformation slips in from out of the language itself.

Nowadays most poetry I come across seems like carefully ruined prose, a chopped up paragraph with a jagged right hand margin. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I have no use for categories; they remind me too much of Pharmacy.

The word poetry or poetic is used today to describe something beautiful or a piece of writing with elevated language. For a poet, the last thing he wants is to write poetically. Too precious, too limp from overuse.

In 1980, about the time when I started doing poetry readings, I had also bought my own pharmacy and more importantly I met Peggy. Everything that has happened since, I credit to her muse, her spirit, her love. If transformation is the operative word I had much to transform.

As for pharmacy or any other work situation one might feel trapped in, I offer this advice: infinite possibilities, maybe everything, is contained in anything.

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