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The poet saves lives, really? “What I mean is that poetry keeps us alive in something, it makes us feel like we exist. And to be a caregiver, to be a human being, having that feeling is still a plus,” says poet and psychiatrist Ouanessa Younsi, in a rather euphemistic formula. “Everyone benefits from finding that feeling within themselves, and art is a medium for that. »
The fact that a doctor can have such a double identity still causes astonishment. A surprise sometimes even mixed with mockery. “The question I get asked the most is, ‘How do you write poetry when you’re a doctor?’ ” confirms Mélanie Béliveau, GP in Sherbrooke, who launched her first collection in August 2021, In the belly of the windbut who had been writing since childhood.
She is surprised at how little recognition this achievement has in her community, yet her collection has received rave reviews. “Maybe there’s a misunderstanding or an assessment: ‘Ah, ok, she, she has time to write poetry while we take care of the actual business.’ »
Ouanessa Younsi has also been writing since her childhood. If she turned to medicine, she should acknowledge her good academic results and the hopes of her immigrant father. Psychiatry will challenge him because it is “a gray area discipline, of listening, of language. Psychiatry actually assumes a form of listening that goes beyond language. You must listen to the shadows. And that’s what poetry does too: it listens to the shadows within us,” explains the man to whom we owe four collections (including Mixed and We are not fairieswith Louise Dupré) and an essay, care, love (2016), rich in reflections on the fertile tensions between the two poles of his existence.
Today, she borrows Miron’s words to describe this combination of psychiatry and poetry that makes the heart of her daily life beat like a “struggling reconciliation,” with medicine inevitably limiting the time she can devote to writing.
Philippe More quickly realized that it would be better to continue writing alongside his medical profession and not the other way around, which would have been impossible. “Maybe even illegal,” jokes the one whose collection The laboratory of angelswhich won him the Émile Nelligan Prize in 2010, has recently been reissued in pocket size.
If he always preferred to erect a dividing wall between the doctor and the poet, so that one does not look everywhere for the smock and the disease in his verse, this generous collection of insoluble questions about the role of the doctor is the only work of his that appeals to the reader down the corridors of the hospital where he spends his days as an emergency room doctor.
“I’ve been told before that my poetry isn’t very political, and I reply that one of the big problems of our time is this tendency to categorize people,” he says.
Showing in my other books that I can have an original point of view on other non-medical issues is a political statement for me, it shows that people cannot be pigeonholed.
To learn to read
For our three poet doctors, one thing is indisputable: their literary practice is enriched by their medical practice and vice versa. To those who once accused him of wasting time the – the scornfully indicative poetry – Philippe More replies that he would not have the energy to work so much as a doctor if he had to “hold that part [lui] Who writes “. “Poetry allows me to give meaning to what sometimes no longer makes sense,” he summarizes.
But apart from these benefits in terms of purely personal development, the emergency doctor at the Haut-Richelieu hospital finds that poetry – both the ones he writes and the ones he reads – sharpens his relationship with language. He points out that at least 90% of the information that guides a diagnosis is based on the reading he makes of the story his patient tells him, not what his stethoscope reads. In short, a therapeutic relationship always begins with words.
For several years he has also been interested in narrative medicine, an approach practiced by the American scientist Rita Charon as “a medicine practiced with a narrative competence that allows histories to be recognised, recorded, interpreted and to be moved by them”.
There are many reading skills that you develop when you put yourself in the place of another character, another subjectivity, that are very useful in clinical practice. We’re probably better able to hear the intricacies of what the person is telling us if we’re a good reader.
“For me, the poem is a place of humility,” says Ouanessa Younsi. The poem keeps me in a space of not knowing, of not judging. The language knows more than I do. There are many things in myself and in the world that I don’t know and through writing I will discover them. And that’s psychiatry too. Accepting listening to the other means accepting not knowing. Literature helps me stay in this zone of uncertainty. »
There is also, a contrario, a genuine knowledge – “a knowledge of subjectivity and emotion” – to be drawn from literature. “I have a much better understanding of borderline personality disorder from reading this Border [roman de Marie-Sissi Labrèche] based on clinical criteria only. »
And the opposite movement also occurs. All the stories that are deposited in Mélanie Béliveau shape the poet that she is. “What the patients experience, what the patients tell us, that’s so hot, so intense,” she observes. We are in a very special intimacy. Want, don’t want, we absorb it all. And since I’m a sensitive person, it touches me inside when I come home. I often had trouble leaving that on the doormat, and writing was my outlet. »
Listen to others, listen to yourself
Rare moment of convergence between his two worlds, The laboratory of angels, a collection written entirely in the second person, will also have allowed Philippe More to articulate the ambiguity of the doctor-patient relationship. An ambiguity that poetry knows how to translate “better than other literary genres”.
This “it’s a lot” relationship I’m with you in the sickness, but I’m not completely with you, I’m on the side. I am involved in your care, but above all I am the organizer of the care. I sympathize with you, but I’m not in your shoes.” The challenge in medicine is that you have to name symptoms and people in order to be able to make a diagnosis, but at the same time you must never forget the individuality of the situation. »
“My mentor always told me: ‘You have to like the patient in order to be able to help him,'” Ouanessa Younsi recalls. But in order for there to be that other to love, there must first be a self. Poetry allows me to listen to what’s going on inside me, my weaknesses. For me, literature is a reminder of this shared humanity, a reminder that I could sit in the patient chair. »
The laboratory of angels
In the belly of the wind
Writings of the Forges
We are not fairies
Louise Dupre and Ouanessa Younsi