Modern medicine has both science and technology on its side, with its sophisticated diagnostic imaging, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled drug studies and complicated surgical procedures. These contribute to better patient outcomes, but sometimes a patient might feel overwhelmed. Our guests have found that human contact through poetry can contribute powerfully to healing.

Guests: David Watts, MD, practices gastroenterology and is Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He produced the documentary “Healing Words: Poetry and Medicine” for public television and has written a number of books, including Taking the History, Bedside Manners and The Orange Wire Problem. Online links include: (Books and Music); (The PBS Documentary); (The Healing Art of Writing Workshops); and (Small Press Publishing). The photo is of Dr. Watts.

John Fox is a poet and certified poetry therapist. He is the founder of the Institute for Poetic Medicine and author of: Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making, The Spirit of Writing, and The Soul of Creativity, among other works. His Web site is

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. Podcasts can be downloaded for free for six weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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  1. PF

    Poetry distills ideas beautifully and the author of this poem has helped me
    with my own resistances to examining pain and living with imperfections
    more lightly.

  2. Lisa

    My mother is an 81 year old poet and patient. I am so excited to share this with her!

  3. Dottie

    I am a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator and Certified Journal Facilitator and work with the chronically mentally ill using poetry and journaling. My experience overwhelmingly proves to me the benefits of writing and healing. The heartfelt and honest work that comes from our weekly sessions is amazing and wonderful. I have watched as many of the people in my groups have pushed through their mental issues, sharing their work and improving week by week. In addition, studies have been done showing the benefits of writing and well-being. See James Pennebaker’s work.

  4. e.s.

    that is beautiful

  5. lalita

    I can’t believe my luck when I switched on the radio, I heard this amazing program. Listening to Dr. Watts and Dr. Fox was an emotional experience. As soon I came to work I wanted to get on the website and learn more. I hope these books are available in chapters. I have always loved poetry, music etc. as a matter of fact I have coped with some very difficult times because of poetry. Kahlil Gibran, Rumi, Rubiyat of Khyaam and many great writers.
    I have a cousin, more a friend and mentor. He lives in India. I was told that he went through depression, doesn’t talk to anyone or look after himself in a dignified manner. Before even listening to your program, I felt strongly that what he needs is love. A soft touch, someone reading to him, singing to him,l ying next to him to embrace him and of cource Dr Watts confirmed my feelings, but the problem is I’m in Canada. Please tell me how i can help him? Please write to me, I will be waiting to hear from you. Thanks for bringing such a gem of program to us lalita

  6. DPN

    This program made great sense to me. This year I have lost my “best friend”, my mother at age 101, and another “best friend” who was age 47 and have family altercations beyond my control. I am a poet also, and tonight started to write about the above feelings and tears began, which is what I have needed, since I have “held-up” strongly. I stopped this process since I did not “have time to continue tonight”. I just wanted to let you know that I really heard your message this morning – and thank you for it Dr. Fox. I will now continue this writing process. (I am also a therapist / writer/ painter and know what all of this means – just bean blocking it all out!! Thanks so much for your voice!!
    Thank you,

  7. Sally

    Thank you so much for rebroadcasting this show. Back in June I shared it with a dear friend who was nearing the end of her life, and it brought great comfort to her and her family. I love your show, and am always thankful for the thoughtfully balanced material. For the critics who want hard science only, the direct stories that Dr. Watts shares about how the arts can affect healing are enough for me. Your show is right on the mark. Thank you, and Happy Holidays.

  8. Libba Wells

    I was delighted to hear your show this morning. One of my sons is a delightful, passionate jazz singer and pianist, and we were just talking yesterday about his desire to combine his gifts with his desire to be of service in a healing way. I’ve forwarded this link to him!
    I’m a psychotherapist and also teach undergrad nursing students for their psychiatric and mental health nursing rotation. A big focus in my teahcing is helping the students become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations as they work with patients, balancing caring for themselves as they care for others. How validating to hear of Dr. Watts focus on helping patients connect with those inner resources to help them find the healing they need and the importance of health care providers’ demeanor and ability to listen.
    Thanks for this inspiring program!

  9. Craig B

    I listen each Saturday morning to The Peoples Pharmacy. Information and subjects discussed are wonderful. The poetry segment was wonderful, my Mother would have appreciated it.

  10. Sara Sanderson

    Kudos to the medical team awareness that Healing is more than Curing.
    I am a poet, essayist, and author who treasures the gifts those fields bring to Healing. I am a ten-year practicioner of daily Qi Gong, who also images Healing light. It works. My physicians have been involved in my cancer and Grave’s disease; Much more, has been involved in my continued Wellness. We are Well bodies, with occasional “events” that need attention; it takes much more than medicine. Bless those, who know to use ALL avenues with us, their clients and patients.

  11. gh

    Another great program!
    Strongly suggest you bring Dr. David Watts back for another show on THE ART OF MEDICINE – title and main emphasis; of course some gastroenterology topics could/should be included.
    Given the current national discussion re-visiting the benefit of focusing on outcome, perhaps this is where real reform starts, or at least might.
    In my over 40 years in the health care field, repeatedly I have seen that it is the “ART” of the practitioner, or unfortunately sometimes lack thereof, which determines an outcome.
    If you do have this topic, keep in mind the Art of Medicine applies to all health care professionals/personnel, and not just to doctors, so please touch on the subject from multiple perspectives.

  12. Larry D.

    I have long been interested in doctors who practice humanity while they help heal their patients. He is, like me, a calming presence and it is a wonderful beginning to any helping relationship. The poetry is very powerful and healing.

  13. Margaret

    This was an amazing program!! I was listening to it in the car and when I got home ran into the house so as not to miss a beat! The statements about healing were healing in themselves. Thank you for this affirming and positive approach to our care for ourselves.

  14. alxzba

    I found Dr. Watts’ information informative. But his delivery and flat affect would no doubt bring relaxation to anyone, and zzzzz zzzz zzz zz z. I feel sorry for his students if he doesn’t have more enthusiasm in teaching than he does in poetry.

  15. Leola G.

    I felt so exhilarated listening go your wonderful program, healing with poetry. It most certainly prompted me to get back into my writing, both poetry and stories. Why did I ever stop??!! Be gone recent health issues!
    God bless you all, Leola

  16. Stephen B.

    This is so, so important in the healing and beneficial health support of humans. I had a Doctor in Connecticut for 20 something years before moving to South Carolina. I actually had to tell him that I Loved him, as a human being and Doctor. What a wonderful man he is. There are to many Doctors out there that just push you through the Patient mill and Next… I am firm believer that positive attitude and happiness make us all healthier. Doctors all need to be nicer and learn how to have compassion and to touch to heal.

  17. Gail D

    I really loved this program, and was amazed that there are any doctors out there who are using the humanities as tools in being a doctor. I was just beginning to think that most doctors had lost the human touch. With doctors like Dr. Watts and the other doctor on the program, I think there may be hope for the medical field after all.

  18. Dr. Lauri

    I’m a family doc who really believes my trustworthiness and willingness to be involved in difficult decisions with my patients, even and especially when I don’t have “the answer” is a crucial part of my role as a healer.
    I love Dr. Watts’ approach and his statement about patients not wanting someone they don’t trust making decisions for them. I would love to see some of medicine’s technology focus diverted to true healing, as through poetry and other art, and not just on “more and better technology” which to me is going in the wrong direction.

  19. RS

    I loved the poetry/medicine connection. Poetry could be in waiting rooms of clinics etc. Poetry has helped me so much for some time. Life changes can be cushioned by poetry. The best poetry in in the Word of God, the bible. I am am amateur published poet. When I worked in chemotherapy they let me pick pictures for the walls in our area. If I would be working today I would give the clients a journal and encourage poetry writing.
    Feelings come
    Feelings won’t go
    I need secure thoughts
    To make them go.

  20. Georgia Lee McElhaney, P.O. Box 542, Shepherdstown, WV 25443

    As a published poet, I thoroughly enjoyed your program on poetry therapy. Thank you. Poetry also helps poets to express themselves; very therapeutic.
    Your program is carried on Saturday and Sunday on WECEL, Boca Raton, where I stayed with my daughter for three months this past winter.
    May I ask a non-related question? I asked it on your other site and it was ruled too long and was deleted (wish I’d made a copy of it). Perrigo has bought out Stiefel Labs and Glades Pharmaceuticals, which made the only arthritis cream that ever worked for me, and I used it for 26 years: Glades Capsicum Oleoresin containing Capsaicin 0.025%. Certainly helped the shingles I developed (and still have traces of) in February. It is now no longer available anywhere. Can they do that?
    Thank you for the good work that you do.

  21. old friend

    I am 71 years and since I retired have been managing the mysteries of chronic fatigue and firbro myalgia. I had a pain flareup on Friday night and wrote the poem below as a way of coping and reassuring myself. Then Saturday morning the program was on medicine and poetry. Thanks for bringing this to a larger audience. Have ordered a CD for myself and one for a niece who is in her first year of med school. Feel free to share this poem as you find it helpful. I am an old friend of Peoples Pharmacy.
    Having a pain-night
    I am not pain.
    I am passing through its fences
    carefully moving
    so as not to believe more in
    limits than in spaces:
    Spaces where light comes in
    and joy
    Spaces of one undone task
    however small
    Spaces where the
    multiple loose threads of dailyness
    are not required to be tied up

  22. Bill

    772 Poetry and Medicine
    On your June 5, 2010 program, one of your guests read a poem that really moved me. It began:
    My son brings me a stone.
    He wants to know which planet it came from.
    I must be careful.
    Is it possible you could email a copy of this poem? If not, can you tell me how to find it?
    Thank you for a wonderful show, Bill

  23. Judy K

    This was a wonderful, sensitive broadcast. I loved the poems and the analysis of how writing, sharing and reading to others is a healing process. I am a retired psychiatric nurse, and a practicing clinical social worker, political activist and poet.
    I believe that the intimacy in emotional connection dissolves the barriers that isolate us and helps us cope and love. Thanks you again.

  24. PAV

    This broadcast was the BEST!! What a caring, perceptive, knowledgeable person
    Dr. Watts is!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your poetry, your marvelous
    insight into patient care and practice. We humans are a combination of body, mind and spirit working together as a lovely symphony.
    You, Dr. Watts, get it!!

  25. ckm

    Just finished listening and have already emailed my son (a doctor, whose strength has always been that ultimate virtue, humility) and my best friend (a poet), in hopes they will listen to the Sunday broadcast. Thanks for programs that consistently promote understanding and awareness.

  26. Dr. T

    I’m on call for my group this weekend and started my day with the Poetry and Medicine show on Wisconsin Public Radio. What a great way to wake up and remind myself of the human side of my profession.
    Much of practicing medicine can be frustrating and draining, and it is all framed by the never-ending push we have to beat the clock and get a million things done in too little time. This show provided a sanity break from that world.
    Dr. Watts’ insights were invaluable for this family doc. I may try to place some poetry books in my exam rooms and see what kind of feedback I get. I also recommend this show for patients who may be dealing with their own healing process.

  27. Carole Ann

    Very interesting that some doctors recognize how the art of poetry soothes and calms the patient before and during surgery. Maybe more doctors will use this for anxious patients. Soft music is very healing too and is used by some Hospice groups. Love your shows.
    Will the MOM put a lot of magnesium into your body? I take a pill for HB pressure–1/2 2xweek. It is triamterene 37.5 mg/HCTZ 25mg, the instructions that came with it said to keep magnesium down in the diet to no more than 300mg daily. It was 156/96 at home, immediately after in doctor’s office it was normal. I stopped taking magnesium as a daily supplement except what is in my multi. Is it safe to use this product?

  28. Mildred L. Brown

    I was delighted to hear Dr. David Watts on your program. I knew him at Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX, where his father was a professor. David is a man of many talents and has the ability to articulate from great depth.
    David gives meaning to the practice and art of medicine. As a clergy wife, daughter and sister to three doctors, I appreciate David’s message.
    Mildred L. Brown

  29. DJ


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