Litany of a Cardiologist, Denise Bundred

Against The Grain Poetry Press, 2020   £6.00

Behind the white coat

With humanity and compassion, Denise Bundred gives her reader a unique insight into the world of the paediatric cardiologist in this wonderful collection.

In ‘Weighing Words’ we sit beside her in the clinic as she breaks bad news:

                                             I bend
under the weight of words when I say
I’m sorry, there is no more we can do

We share her fascination with the intricacies of an infant’s heart in ‘Disordered Heart’ and walk with her from theatre to waiting room to share good news with the parents:

Sweat maps my back from neck to waist
as I walk fluorescent 4 a.m. corridors
to find your mum and dad

In many of the poems, Bundred addresses the patient, whether it be a foetus on a scan, as in ‘Foetal Scan’ where the unborn child begs ‘Leave me alone, don’t tell my parents yet’, or a newborn on the operating table, as in ‘Open Heart’ in which the dramatic is juxtaposed with the mundane:

Can someone order me a cheese and pickle sandwich
before the canteen closes?
I’ll see his parents on the ward in fifteen minutes.

A deserving winner of the Hippocrates Prize, this poet’s intelligent, clear-eyed, accessible work gives us a masterclass in how to write effectively and movingly about a highly specialised branch of medicine, in a voice which draws in layman and expert alike.

Here is the ending of ‘Litany of a Cardiologist’ which, like all the poems, has the child firmly at its centre:

hypertrophic, hypoplastic, dilated
thickened, unformed, enlarged (as in ventricle)

dyspnoeic, crepitations, syncope
breathless, crackles, faint (as in failure)

Congenital Cardiac Anomaly
born with heart disease (as in child).

I found the poems both emotional and (at the same time) entertaining. This is a collection which is compassionate and ultimately filled with hope.

Carole Bromley