Getting to Know Ron Pies and His New Book The Myeloma Year

Available now on Amazon

Ronald W. Pies, MD is a physician, poet, and medical ethicist, affiliated with Tufts University and SUNY Upstate Medical University. A graduate of Cornell University, Pies is the author of the novel, The Director of Minor Tragedies; The Three-Petalled Rose, a book on comparative spiritual traditions; and the poetry collection, Creeping Thyme. Dr. Pies and his wife, Nancy, live in Lexington, Mass. 

Ronald W. Pies, MD is a physician, poet, and medical ethicist, affiliated with Tufts University and SUNY Upstate Medical University. A graduate of Cornell University, Pies is the author of the novel, The Director of Minor Tragedies; The Three-Petalled Rose, a book on comparative spiritual traditions; and the poetry collection, Creeping Thyme. Dr. Pies and his wife, Nancy, live in Lexington, Mass. 

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I first began writing poems in college. At Cornell, I was privileged to have had the renowned literary scholar, M.H. Abrams, as a teacher. I also took a very influential course called “The reading of poetry”, in which I was exposed to poetry of the late W.D. Snodgrass.  I was especially moved by his long poem, “Heart’s Needle.” Mr. Snodgrass was very encouraging and actually sent me some of his books. It took me many years to let go of the poetic “voice” I had cultivated, which was a poor imitation of Snodgrass!

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I wish I had a “routine”, but in recent years, I have been rather haphazard in my non-professional writing—mainly poetry and fiction. I usually write in my study, with a little classical music playing very softly in the background.

 Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Typically, I’ll start with a phrase that comes to mind, often in response to some event that moves me. Sometimes, though, it’s more like a sound or a rhythm, not even at the fully verbal level. I have always sensed a deep connection between poetry and music or singing-- much more so than between poetry and “ideas” or philosophical musings. In general, I’m drawn more to the incantatory qualities of a poem than to its ideas.

 Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?           
In addition to W.D. Snodgrass, I have always felt a deep connection with W.B. Yeats, William Carlos Williams (a fellow physician!), Seamus Heaney, Theodore Roethke, and Stanley Kunitz. My poet friends, Richard Berlin and Robert Deluty, have also influenced my work.   

Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc. 

My chapbook, “The Myeloma Year”, grew out of our dealing with my wife’s recent diagnosis and treatment. Over the course of a year or more, as Nancy and I moved through the tiring and trying cycle of her treatment, I found time to cobble together a poem or two, which eventually resulted in a small group of related poems. The chapbook is really a tribute to Nancy’s amazing strength, courage and good humor, facing down a very challenging illness. I’m happy to say, she continues to do very well, and easily whips me on the running track!  

Read a sample poem from The Myeloma Year here:

Buzz-cut

It’s called “Cytoxan”
  but on fast-growing cells
it’s just plain toxin:
  the cells in your mouth
I’ve kissed
  in salty summer;
the cells in the roots
  of your sunlit hair. 

For ten days,
  you’d been spared;
but golden handfuls
  on your pillow
this week
  led finally to this:
a few deft swipes
  of cordless clippers
and the deed is done.

 You smile, shrug
  and soldier on:
“There’s gardening to do,”
  you say, kneeling
over April’s
   first-born blooms.
Yellow crocuses
  wave in the wind,
and I am shorn
   from the inside.