Touch: The Journal of Healing



Editor's Choice: The Voice of Risa Denenberg

I learned of the poetry by Risa Denenberg when we received her first submissions in August of 2010.  My interest was piqued both as an editor and personally when I read her brief biography.  In it she noted that she was a nurse practitioner, and I wanted to learn how and to what degree her career might have served as a foundation from which she built her work.  I was also interested to learn whether her poetry would resonate with what I believe to be the cornerstone of healthcare poetry, and that is an honest portrayal of the intimate and often life-altering moments that are experienced by people who are faced with illness, death, and dying in a way that can only be conveyed from the perspective of a professional, unencumbered caregiver.  I was not disappointed.

Not only was I not disappointed, I became enamored with the poet because her poetry grew from a commitment to the sick and dying through her lifelong vocation in nursing, a commitment that was very much in line with my own philosophy and the driving force behind Touch: The Journal of Healing.  The poetry was brutally honest and clear, and I was able to relate on a very visceral level to the emotions, the settings, the patients and family members, and the health care providers whose stories were told.  Subsequently, we selected two of her poems, “Even the gorgeous royal chariots wear out,” and “Hours-to-days,” to include in our January 2011 issue.

After nearly a year, we were pleased to receive a second collection of poetry from Risa during our September 2011 issue submission period.  Once again, the pieces she submitted spoke with a very clear voice, but more than this, we were immediately aware that we were in possession of something very special.  We were both drawn to the fact that with very few words, and in just a few lines, the impact of each poem was immediate and resounding.  We were so impressed with the work that we wanted to feature it as an Editor’s Choice collection.  As we had just chosen the Editor’s Choice features for the September 2011 issue, I wrote to Risa to ask whether she would allow us to hold her poems for the next issue.  We were pleased to receive her gracious agreement to this.

I am drawn to Risa Denenberg’s poetry for several reasons.  The first, and most obvious is her skill with imagery and how quickly the settings of her poems encompass a reader.  We recognize the where, why, and how of a setting without actually reading words that specifically convey this.  With nuance and often with the use of a narrator or subject’s internal dialogue, we see these things because we can identify and empathize with why they are experiencing the events her poetry portrays.  l just alluded to the use of internal dialogue.  Be it obvious or suggested, this can be a very powerful tool when used by caring and skilled hands, and it can serve as a window for a reader through which to look into the soul of a character when it is applied with discretion and proficiency.  As well, Risa has mastered with great skill one of my most admired talents for a poet, and that is brevity.  Her words are few, they are weighted carefully, and because of this, each holds a significant role in the evolution of her poems.  Finally I admire how Risa chooses the moments in time her poems portray.  This is a critical component in discerning poetry that is not only effective but also specific in what is or has happened from poetry that never seems to come into focus.  Risa’s focus is not only clear, it is also precise.  She blends all of these techniques with skill as she molds her words to form poems that I can only describe as unequivocal, insightful truths.

The four poems selected for this issue’s Editor’s Choice exemplify some of Risa Denenberg’s best work.  “We do not speak of death,” reveals the internal struggle against infirmity by using internal dialogue though it is not revealed whether the dialogue is that of the subject or the perceptions of the narrator.  “Failure” takes place in a hospital at the bedside of a man and though this poem portrays the lives of two subjects, through internal dialogue, we learn more about the narrator’s internal struggles than those of of the subjects’.  In “As death approaches,” there are again two subjects, one “ancient,” the other a child.  Again the poet uses internal dialogue here, and though we would think the poem will be about the “ancient” character it is actually the child whose story is told here.  These three poems are perfect examples of how effective brevity can be when used by skilled hands.  “Pseudobulbar Affect,” though a bit lengthier, is a brilliant poem about how repeated, lifelong emotional trauma takes it toll on the development of relationships.  What I appreciate most about this poem is how Risa takes advantage of medical terms and explains symptoms through example rather than definition, something that is an inherent part of nursing practice in patient teaching.

I would urge you as readers and lovers of poetry to study how this poet wields her pen, where she places her focus, who she portrays in her work, and the moments she chooses to convey.  You will be studying work that comes from a poet who has not only mastered the art of poetry but also lived their moments.

It is with great pleasure and personal pride that I present to you a voice of Touch: Risa Denenberg.

O.P.W. Fredericks, Editor

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Touch: The Journal of Healing

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