To the Editor:
Having written and published poetry for many years after two English degrees and one creative writing Fellowship that is much more famous than I am, I for one, am always ready to read creative pieces written by physicians.1 But I’m not sure what “Bacchus Listed for a Liver Transplant”2 is.
It isn’t a poem. There is no elevated language here, no attention to the rhythm of the words, only the mundane language of an uninformed letter to the editor. Good Art, like good Science, is an investigative tool—see the first chapter of my most recent Oxford book.3
The content of “Bacchus Listed” is remarkably ignorant of the mythological understanding of the Bacchus legend. See Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces4 and others on Dionysos, the earlier Greek version of the Latin Bacchus. And it is likewise ignorant of the transplant listing process: no one who is actively drinking as portrayed will be listed in a reputable program.5
It isn’t literature because it is free of human compassion. Contrast it to the works by other physicians like William Carlos Williams who couldn’t write in verse but gave us fine images, or Henry Vaughan who could do both. In Nashville, the writer’s local area, the work of Alan Tate, John Crowe Ransom, or Merrill Moore—another physician—may be of use. John Stone, M.D., has some fine pieces further south.
Nor is it science: it portrays only an uninformed stereotype of what alcoholism really is.6 For example, if 100 Bacchuses drank heavily, only 15% would acquire liver cirrhosis. About 35 to 40% of alcoholic persons will find their way to sobriety each year, and studies document remarkably high rates of abstinence among alcoholics after liver transplant. This last finding led my associates and me to investigate the effects of immunosuppressants—commonly given after transplant—on alcohol drinking.7 What stereotype would all of these data support?
There seems to be another stereotype in effect here: that Art does not require precision of thought, or put another way, that the artist is free from doing appropriate homework. This, of course, is never the case, in literature or in science.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States government. The author declares no competing interests.