Monday, November 19, 2012

Review of Gunmetal Blue: A Memoir


A section reprinted from a review of Gunmetal Blue in subTerrain (vol. 7.61 2012)

"I could not put Neilson’s work down. I was compelled to finish it—and this alone speaks for its merit. He writes from an unusual place: a doctor-poet saddled with the weight of depression who writes from all these vantage points. He opens his Prologue by finding common ground between doctoring and poetry: The major characteristic of the practice of poetry and medicine is that both can always be done better.” From here, he maps out the ways in which the circumstances of his life traverse each other: how medicine influences poetry and vice versa; how poetry led him into a downward slide, how both doctoring and poetry heal his inner wounds, and how his knowledge of medicine intersects with the healing process."

"In the first two chapters, “Uncle Miltie and the Locked Ward” and “Mental Illness,” Neilson describes his descent into “madness”—his gradual loss of purchase on a life that supposedly offered stability, status, and respect. The first chapter takes us through his attempted suicide—walking off a third-storey balcony because death seemed like the best way to escape the pain. His survival means that he becomes his colleagues’ patient in the hospital where he himself works. He eventually spends six months in a psychiatric ward where he is forced to confront his depressive mood disorder and decide to get better. This is an important distinction that Neilson is careful to make: he decides to forego electroconvulsive therapy, climb out of the cavernous darkness on his own and find wellness in his profession, his marriage, and family life—and as a poet."

"In the second half of the volume, Neilson’s tone changes. He tells stories of doctoring and care-giving, of ethical and internal conflict and of professional conscience. In essence, he looks outward at the mechanics of his calling. This provides some much-needed balance, made innovative by a somewhat academic appreciation of other doctor poets. While in places, Neilson’s writing could have been tighter, his work left me with a sense of completeness, of someone having come full circle through challenge and heartache—back to health."