Art and science are unified, if you ask Dawn McGuire, a neurologist who will read from her book of poetry titled “The Aphasia Café” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at The Grayson Gallery and Art Center.
She said she was drawn to medicine, in part, because of the beauty of the language.
“Terms like ‘cavernous sinus’ —what a strangely attractive term for something basically up your nose,” she said.
Aphasia is a speech disorder that effects language and often strikes victims of stroke. Her book deals with the effects of aphasia on the identity of its victims. Aphasia affects more than one million Americans.
McGuire lived in Grayson through fourth grade, when she and her mother, Loraine B. McGuire, moved to Lexington. In grade school, her interest in poetry showed itself.
“I’ve been writing poetry since I tried to imitate Milton’s heroic lines for Mrs. Adams in fourth grade; we called her ‘Adam bomb’ — she was tough,” McGuire recalled.
She also was influenced by Grayson’s Dr. Shuff toward medicine.
She graduated from St. Timothy’s girls boarding school, where she first had poetry published. She earned a degree at Princeton University and attended medical school at Columbia.
“My first neurology teacher was a master teacher, such a thrilling storyteller, and such an old school gentleman — and so smart. Later, he won the Nobel Prize,” McGuire said of her choice to study neurology. “He led me to love the brain, the mind, the biology of being a conscious person. The human nervous system was, for me, the final frontier. I lucked out, because I began to train just as an explosion of technology started to make possible new knowledge of the sort we never imagined, except in science fiction.”
She said technology has allowed her to study gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease and help her get three new drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including one that treats pain in cancer patients.
“To be able to help someone with an illness that affects the basics of who we are as humans: sensing, thinking, doing, knowing, saying, remembering, even recognizing our loved ones — it doesn’t get better than that,” she said.
Her first book of poetry, “Sleeping in Africa,” was published in 1982; her second, “Hands On,” in 2002. The Aphasia Café was published in April by IF SF Publishing and went into second printing in August.
McGuire, who splits her time between San Francisco, where she has a clinic, and Atlanta, where she is adjunct professor of neurology, said she is a better doctor for investing time in a non-scientific activity like poetry; it helps her relate to her patients on a more human level.
“I also believe I become a better poet by understanding the kind of formal precision and exactness of science, applying such exactness to the words I choose, to choices about line breaks, to the dramatic turns in poems.”
When she readers her work in Grayson next week, she said she’s looking forward to seeing friends and relatives who still live there.
She also said she hopes readers will find her work relatable.”
“I want it to be accessible, to bring pleasure, maybe even insight, to my audience,” she said. “I want my work to be a part of people’s everyday love of life.”
“I believe that poetry has a job to do in the world: to speak to the depths of a person, to the inside, sacred places and the secret places, to ease the hard places, and to help make a person’s life as big as it can be.”
LEE WARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2661.