Poetic Medicine

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A workshop hosted by Dr. Joan Baranow, Director of Graduate Humanities, was the re-launching point for poet and MFA student Catharine Clark-Sayles ’19. Catharine, who grew up with a passion for literature and writing, put writing on hold when she enrolled in medical school on an army scholarship.

“I stopped writing when I went to medical school, because I thought, I’m going to be a scientist, so I just don’t have time to write poetry,” Catharine says.

However, her love of literature persisted and several years ago Catharine set herself a goal: to pursue an MFA in creative writing.

She was encouraged in her pursuit by relationships she had through the medical community in San Francisco. After medical school Catharine was assigned to the since decommissioned Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco. She has worked in the Bay Area medical community for more than 25 years.

A nurse friend shared Catharine’s poems with Dr. David Watts at the University of California San Francisco, who offered positive feedback and encouraged her to join a poetry workshop hosted by his wife, Joan Baranow, in her living room prior to her teaching at Dominican.

The meeting was serendipity. Catharine eventually was drawn to Baranow and Dominican’s MFA program in the School of Liberal Arts and Education because the low-residency format made it possible for Catharine to continue working full time. Baranow understood that Catharine was considering enrolling in a more formal MFA instead rather than continue her summer poetry camps..

Along with tracks in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, Dominican’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing offers an optional emphasis in narrative medicine—the only such MFA track in the country. Read more about the program in the Marin Independent Journal.

“I liked the idea that I could come here and hang out with other writers,” Catharine says. “I like the vision they have in the MFA program at Dominican. It’s a fabulous resource, this island of calm in the middle of a lot of chaos in this world.”

Her intention in pursuing an MFA extended beyond the search for greater validation in her work. She hoped to gain tools to become better at revising and find a community with a similar love for language. And most importantly, she wanted to give herself permission to focus on poetry so that it didn’t just feel like a side hobby.

“There are very collegial and interesting people with varied backgrounds in the program. Everyone is very supportive and letting everybody do the very best writing they can do. I appreciate that,” Catharine says.

In November, Catharine celebrated the release of Brats, her poetry chapbook published by Finishing Line Press of Kentucky, with a reading on the Dominican campus.

“I’ve been very, very productive since this started, I have written about 30 new poems over the last six months,” Catharine says. “Taking the MFA gives me permission to focus on poetry right now in my life and not feel like it’s just a hobby thing I do on the side, it’s really something important to me.”

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