Shadows, Slicksters, and Soothsayers: Physicians in Canadian Poetry


That physicians are scientists is rarely questioned. One might expect, then, that doctors would be portrayed as such in Canadian poetry. However, when the author, a physician and poet herself, surveyed a sample of contemporary works, she found that doctors were rarely seen as scientists; instead, she groups their portrayals into three categories: shadows (physicians who appear as accidental tourists, or as manual labourers), slicksters (physicians doing the technical work of medicine, but also embodying the power struggles between doctor and patient), and soothsayers (physicians who divine some larger meaning about being human). Though this lack of physician-as-scientist imagery might exist because poets are generally less familiar with the workaday world of science than with the caring (or apparently not caring) aspects of physicianship, these portrayals suggest the world may view medicine as something emerging from science, but occupying a place closer to craftsmanship. I conclude with what this may mean for what patients want more of and less of from physicians.

This article “Shadows, Slicksters, and Soothsayers: Physicians in Canadian Poetry” originally appeared in Science & Canadian Literature. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 221 (Summer 2014): 37-54.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.