by Mike Liguori
Connecticut nurse practitioner and award-winning author Cortney Davis is enjoying the best of both professional worlds, publishing her prose and poetry and traveling the country to encourage nurses to write about their own experiences.
"I write from the nurse’s vantage point: we accompany patients as they go from illness to recovery; we walk with patients as they journey through death’s door," Davis writes on her Web site.
"Like other nurses and doctors who write, I feel called upon to translate and pass on in some measure the extraordinary lessons I learn from my patients’ lives. I also realize that when we caregivers tell our patients’ stories, we reveal our own as well."
Davis has a long list of published work. In addition to her own books, her poetry has appeared in literary journals, anthologies, medical humanities texts, and nursing and medical journals.
She has read and given poetry workshops throughout the United States, most recently in Washington D.C., Ohio, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Connecticut and Denver.
"I was at the University of Colorado School of Nursing for a workshop, reading and talk, and also at the medical school in April, 1999, and, during the same visit, I spoke to an interpersonal ethics class at the university," she said.
"Interestingly enough, the nurses and medical students welcomed me with open arms, but the doctors seemed to have some trepidation – ‘A nurse who writes about medical things?’ I think that now, nurse/poets are better accepted by physicians," Davis said.
She’s also traveled through the Denver area with her husband Jon, who is a physician and nature photographer.
"We’ve poked around the mid-west, the west, and the northwest, me doing poetry readings and Jon snapping photos in the national parks."
Davis said she writes about her nursing work because it offers an outlet for the mysteries of the human body, healing, fears of death and abandonment, and celebration of birth, relationships and creativity.
"As caregivers, we see what few others are permitted to see," Davis said. "This entitlement brings with it a responsibility to tell the emotional truth."
Davis’ own emotional truth began in her infancy. She was born in Maryland and moved at age four to Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh.
In her childhood, she also lived in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania and Stamford, Connecticut.
Her father was a World War II veteran and New York Herald Tribune reporter who was a speech ghostwriter for Roosevelt. During the war, he wrote and published a military newspaper but faced difficult duty in the field, as well.
He was awarded a purple heart and a bronze star for bravery after leading battalions to sweep Italian fields for land mines.
Because her father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and her mother was sick with TB, Davis was sent to live with family friends for six months while she was still an infant.
While she remembers the rest of her childhood as magical, loving and difficult, she said she lived with a shifting sense of place and a feeling of longing after that early separation.
"Now, when I write about my experiences with patients, I focus on reality, on what is actual and tangible," Davis wrote. "But always, somewhere in the background, there remains that childhood underbelly of fragility and loss, like the multiple, subtle tones in the scent of perfume. I’m still not quite convinced that those we love and care for won’t simply disappear."
Today, her career as a writer is in full swing. She’s currently writing poetry, essays, articles, interviews and book reviews, and giving readings and workshops.
Two of her essays have recently appeared in the New York Times, she said.
She’s exhilarated by the distance her work is traveling.
"My non-fiction memoir, ‘I Knew a Woman: the Experience of the Female Body,’ was just published in Chinese," she said.
"I’ve just completed an interview with physician/poet Rafael Campo which will be published soon, and my interview with poet Dick Allen just came out in the spring in Connecticut Review.
"My big project is another poetry collection, this time all prose poems. I am in the process of finalizing the manuscript right now. The title is tentatively ‘Lucid Dreaming,’ but I think that might change. This book explores the connection between dream and imagination and reality in poems that look at both my work as a nurse and my life as a wife and mother."
Davis won a Connecticut Commission on the Arts Poetry Grant for 2005, and is now using the funds to write new poems about her work with patients.
"One of the grant poems, ‘Whatever Is Left,’ and a short story called ‘Breathing’ will be published this fall in the Bellevue Literary Review," she said.
Davis is also an online annotator for New York University’s Literature and Medicine Database, an international resource for literary and art works that can be used in teaching medical and nursing humanities. The database is online at http://endeavor.med.nyu.edu/lit-med/lit-med-db/topview.html.
Davis’ schedule of public appearances continues this summer, with engagements as a seminar leader or featured reader at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in Farmington, Connecticut.
More information and creative writing suggestions for nurses are available on her Web site, http://www.cortneydavis.com.