- Emergency Poet
Let’s agree to this one thing: when we start from a place of compassion, we are poised to do work of great significance. This is true in the world of nursing, and it is also true in the world of poetry.
Emergency room nurse is Stacy R. Nigliazzo’s primary profession. She is also a poet, and Press 53 recently released her debut collection of verse, Scissored Moon.
Nigliazzo’s nursing life informs every poem in the collection, which seems to cover the gamut of patient care, from trauma to chronic illness to labor and delivery. Her care for her patients comes through loud and clear; in fact, it is the loudest and clearest aspect of the book, and she does achieve success in making her readers share in her compassion for people who are hurt, abandoned, and dying.
Despite her breadth of knowledge in the nursing field, the poet is perhaps most successful when she approaches her subjects obliquely. “Palliative Care” is a nice example of Nigliazzo at her best. We see the speaker tending to a cut flower and ratcheting up her care as the flower begins to die:
When the first leaf fell
I added lemon pulp and crushedan Aspirin,
cut away all that waned—the shoots were spry
one last day.
Compare this passage, though, to one about an actual human patient, “Transfiguration”:
The festering skybleeds gray—
all that she is and never will be.
Alone, in vainI weep.
Those poems like “Palliative Care,” where Nigliazzo shows what she can do with the unique empathy and compassion of the nurse-poet, make a poem like “Transfiguration” seem heavy-handed. The book features both varieties of poetry, though, and the poems improve as the book progresses.
In reading Scissored Moon, there is no doubt that the author is a nurse. Nigliazzo knows her stuff, and she is deft with telling details. One thing she lacks, though, is a sense of what a layperson can be expected to know. I do not mean that Nigliazzo is talking over her readers’ heads; rather, she and her editors make the monumental error of including a final “Notes” section that is basically a glossary of terms.
Of course, readers tend to welcome explanations of terms they would not be expected to know, like “pancytopenia,” a section title of Nigliazzo’s poem “Family Waiting Room.” (Pancytopenia is defined as “[a] reduction in all cellular elements of the blood [that] may cause significant hemorrhaging.) It gets a little insulting, though, when Nigliazzo is defining “Hypothermia” or “Caesarian birth.” And really, it’s possible to find a quick (and better) definition of pancytopenia with a quick Web search—and for that matter, it’s a little distracting as a section title in a poem that is otherwise one of the bright spots of Nigliazzo’s collection.
When reading this collection, one begins to wonder who it is intended for. Is she writing for medical professionals? All of the publications listed on her “Acknowledgements” page are geared toward doctors and nurses, and there are no general literary journals at all. (Bellevue Literary Review, with its focus on work concerning the human body, comes closest.) Two of the book’s three blurbs are by medical professionals with degrees indicated behind their names.
If the book is for medical professionals, a notes section that defines “Septicemia,” “Congestive Heart Failure,” and “Pulmonary Edema” is especially foolish. Even for general readers without medical or nursing degrees, the definitions are overkill.
Another concern I had as a reader was with Nigliazzo’s insistence on bringing herself to the fore. This strikes me as a weakness in both poetry and nursing (and I speak as the daughter and sister of nurses). The book begins with poems that insistently focus on the speaker’s reaction to what she is seeing: “I look away,” “[I] try to forget,” “Tears of my own.” Some of the injection of the personal seems appropriate—it is poetry, after all—but Nigliazzo seems too determined to demonstrate that she is more...