Cortney Davis

Poetry, Memoir, Creative Non-Fiction

 

Welcome to my website!

I am a poet, memoirist, creative non-fiction writer, and a nurse practitioner.  While I do write about things other than medicine, I'm most often drawn to the intersection of health and illness, and to the mysteries of the body. In writing, it's possible to view the illness experience from both sides of the sickbed―what we as patients might experience as well as what we as caregivers experience.  Most of all, I try, in poetry and prose, to understand the complexities of caregiving, that most intimate of human relationships. 

In my writing, therefore, nursing becomes a metaphor for how we care or fail to care for one another—our families, our neighbors, our lovers. Although both nurses and doctors inhabit the strange universe of illness, death, and healing, we bring to that world different skills and points of view. 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.  I feel called upon to translate and pass on in some measure the extraordinary lessons I have learned from my patients’ lives, and from my own experiences as a patient.  When we tell another's story, we reveal our own as well.


I hope you will browse through my site, stopping here and there along the way.  You will meet my books and also find links to my writer friends and my favorite journals.  There are some writing exercises for nurses (and others) here as well.  Please feel free to contact me. I'm always interested in meeting other caregivers who write, and others who, like me, have been patients.

Pink Calla Lilly 1 copy.jpg
 

Awards for Taking Care of Time

"Taking Care of Time," winner of the

Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize from the Michigan State University Poetry Center was chosen as an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year in Creative Works and was recently selected to receive the CT Center for the Book Award in Poetry

 
Taking Care of Time cover.jpg

Taking Care of Time

2016 Wheelbarrow Books

Prize for Poetry

  


Congratulations to Cortney Davis, winner of the 2016 Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry for her collection, Taking Care of Time. Selected by judge Naomi Shihab Nye, Taking Care of Time will be published by the MSU Press in 2018. Cortney Davis, a nurse practitioner, is the author of Leopold's Maneuvers (University of Nebraska Press), winner of the Prairie Schooner Poetry Prize; Details of Flesh(Calyx Books); three poetry chapbooks; two works of nonfiction, and two anthologies (as co-editor). Her poems have appeared nationally and internationally in journals including Poetry, Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry East, Rattle, and others.

"Davis' skills as a nurse practitioner and her unflinching to-the-bone gifts as a writer mix eloquently to create a manuscript that will grip and compel readers," writes Naomi Shihab Nye. "A great book, not to be missed. It was an honor to select Taking Care of Time for the first Wheelbarrow Books prize."

 

"When words fail, that's when poetry begins" Yehuda Amichai



Why I Write

~ To honor the mystery of the body. Why does it heal or not heal, both physically and emotionally? I've seen patients who, according to medical science, should be dying; yet they live.  Or, what about a patient who dies and at autopsy is found to be perfectly healthy? How do we survive?  How do we love or fail to love? And what is the role of dream, of memory? What happens to us after we die—not to our bodies but to "us"? These mysteries are asked through poems, stories, essays.

~ My own fears of abandonment come into consciousness as I watch patients fade from life into illness and death.

~ Poetry and prose are the sanities that give voice to our collective fear of death, abandonment, and aloneness, as well as to our collective celebration of birth, relationship, and creativity.

~ At the beginning of the 21st century, in the midst of burgeoning technology, writing about the physical body—how it fails or survives and how we care for it—is rapidly becoming the dominant mythology of medicine. When we write, we approach caregiving with spirituality and mystery, two touchstones that technology and the distance it imposes have stripped away.

~ What we bear witness to as caregivers is perhaps more important than what we theorize about.

~ As caregivers, we see what few others are permitted to see. This entitlement brings with it a responsibility to tell the emotional truth.

~ My own voice as a writer has been informed by my nurse’s training. The language of medicine is generally encoded and oblique, designed, it seems, to keep patients at bay. So my writing rebels and becomes direct. As a nurse I was taught to describe, to be clear and concise in my notes, to put in all the details but not to “diagnose.” Nurses become good at implication.

~ The careful observation of individual suffering opens first the heart, then the mind, to universal suffering.

 

Books

When the Nurse Becomes a Patient: A Story in Words and Images

Available on amazon.com or from your local book seller

"With a nurse's expert eye and a poet's intrepid heart, Cortney Davis guides us through the harrowing world of illness and healing.  Her rich paintings and prose coax open the patient experience in a manner both unflinchingly honest and doggedly empathic."  --Danielle Ofri, Author and physician

Awarded a gold medal Living Now award; an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year award in the category of Public Interest and Creativity; a gold medal Benjamin Franklin award; and named a finalist in the category of memoir in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards

The Heart's Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing

Available on amazon.com or from your local book seller

"'The Heart's Truth: Essays on the art of Nursing' should be required reading at every nursing school in the country. In writing of the highest quality, it offers a powerful and moving portrait of what it means to be a nurse."
                         —Richard Selzer, surgeon and author

Voted one of the "top 50 must read books for nurses in 2012" (the list Ivntorn.net); awarded a bronze medal Living Now book award in the category of Health and Wellness; an Independent Publishers' silver medal in the category of essay / creative non-fiction; an American Journal of Nursing book of the year award in the category of Public Interest / Creativity

Details of Flesh (poetry)

Available on amazon.com or from the publisher, CALYX Books

Reviewer Doug Marx writes, “For Davis, there’s no split between what Yeats called the ‘life’ and the ‘work.’ Her profession provides an emotional and metaphorical framework for her art. There’s a compassionate matter-of-factness in these frequently graphic poems, and that tone is, in many ways, the book’s real success. Davis avoids the dangers inherent in this kind of material: voyeurism, self-martyrdom, New Age sentiment. Somewhat surprisingly, these poems are fairly free of black humor, a not uncommon characteristic among those who witness a lot of suffering. Instead, Davis brings to her experience an awareness of human sexuality that is almost revelatory in this seemingly asexual context. A kind of liberation is generated by such honesty, something a thousand hours of ‘ER’ or “Chicago Hope’ could never induce.”

Leopold's Maneuvers (poetry)

Available on amazon.com 

“Leopold’s Maneuvers takes the body—gorgeous, suffering, medicalized, mythologized, abused, and loved—as its central topic. Both harsh and beautiful, these poems are acts of spiritual survival.” 
—poetry judges Robin Becker and Peggy Shumaker



Winner of the Prairie Schooner Poetry Book Award; awarded an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year award in the category of Public Interest / Creativity

Learning to Heal: Reflections on Nursing School in Poetry and Prose

About "Learning to Heal: Reflections on Nursing School in Poetry and Prose," poet and physician Jack Coulehan says, "In consistently engaging poetry and prose, this anthology captures the lived experiences of student nurses in multiple voices over many decades." Read the work of 51 writers who share their memories--the good, the harrowing, and the humorous--as they traveled  the educational path to graduation as professional nurses.

 

Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses

Edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer; available on amazon.com or from your local book seller

“A striking, often beautiful collection which brings to speech what occurs between the caring and the cared for—moments at the edges of life when, for most of us, even crucial communication seems beyond the reach of words. Coming now, Between the Heartbeats seems a particularly important book, breaking as it does the silence of women and men, who, perhaps more than any others, live the essentials behind the health care debate.”
                                    —Honor Moore

Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses


Edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer; available on amazon.com or from your local book seller

“Intensive Care has what it takes—exceptional quality and a variety of styles and topics. I’d recommend this book to anyone in the health professions who likes stories and is interested in the human dimension of patient care. Moreover, this anthology will be a valuable resource for use in literature, humanities, or ethics courses in nursing schools and for similar courses in medical schools as well. It’s worth far more than the price of admission.”
—Jack Coulehan in Journal of the American Medical Association

Awarded an American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year award in the category of Public Interest / Creativity

I Knew a Woman: Four Patients and their Female Caregiver

This book from Random House is currently out of print, but used copies are available on amazon.com and from other book sellers

“In this compelling look at how women’s bodies influence, and sometimes dramatically alter, their lives, readers become intimately acquainted not only with women’s body parts, but also with several specific women. . . In this book, Davis holds a mirror up to the whole woman, letting us see inside and out. She provides a fascinating look not only at how women’s bodies work, but also at a medical professional’s emotions. Readers may find themselves wishing that the perceptive Davis were their own nurse practitioner.” 

                      --Publisher's Weekly starred review


Awarded the 2002 Connecticut Center for the Book Non-Fiction Prize (that big round circle on the cover is the award medal!)
                                          

 

The Body Flute

This hand-set, hand-sewn chapbook of five poems was produced by Gary Metras at his Adastra Press in Massachusetts. The first edition of 360 copies was printed on felt-textured Strathmore Grandee paper with a flame-like woodcut ending each poem and blood-red inside covers.  This limited edition chapbook has been sold out.

“The central voices we find expressed in this brave poetry are those voices which occupy the conscious selflessness of a nurse. Davis writes ragelessly and truthfully about her experiences. Probably this poetry is too honorable ever to be widely circulated and widely appreciated, because honorable behavior is anathema to the denizens of the shallows. Bravo.” 

                           —Dusty Dog Reviews

Willy Nilly: Poems for Children

This professionally printed stapled chapbook is a collection of poems for children and adults with color illustrations by my children. Printed in limited edition, this chapbook is available only from me.  Please email me if interested!

To Begin Again

This book is available on amazon.com or from the publisher, www.oaktara.com 

"To Begin Again" is a short novella about a young OB-GYN resident in training in a modern-day hospital clinic. She loves her work; she is happily married.  When she and her husband discover that she is pregnant, she believes that her only option is to terminate her pregnancy.  She is in the midst of residency and her husband, also a physician, is facing several more years of medical education.  They don't know what their future holds. They have no idea where they will live or where they will practice medicine.  This book examines a woman's decision making process when faced with what seems to be such a momentous personal dilemma.  Alert: there are some graphic and accurate descriptions of medical procedures in this book.

 

A Few Poems

I Want To Work in a Hospital

where it’s okay

to climb into bed with patients

and hold them—

pre-op, before they lose

their legs or breasts, or after,

to tell them

they are still whole.


Or post-partum,

when they have just returned

from that strange garden,

or when they are dying,

as if somehow because I stay

they are free to go.


I want the daylight

I walk out into

to become the flashlight they carry, 

waving it as we go together

into their long night.

(first appeared in Bellevue Literary Review)

Mother's Gloves

I wear latex gloves

to keep patients’ germs away—

staph, herpes, HIV—every viral song,

each bacterial worry.


Accustomed to such risky love,

I rummage drawers at home

to unearth warmer gloves:

blue calfskin, the silky buttoned bone


or ivory elbow length I found

in Mother’s coat, now my own.

Are we bound

to work, age, sicken, die


alone—not skin to skin?

How can it be?  I, who can’t remember

Mother’s hugs, find my fingers in-

side Mother’s gloves.

(first appeared in Ontario Review)

Ear Examined

The doctor tugs the fleshy lobe, pulls up

and back, the canal thereby made straight.

Enter his probing speculum, its light a triangle

on the drum.  Pearly, uninformed, it waits

for the otoscope’s puff of air.  Like a sheet


snapped by tiny chambermaids, it flaps,

teased by air to test its worth for sound:

those words we long for—

a whispered oath, a lie.

A trickster, the ear.  Making us believe

what eyes deny or hearts might doubt,


the narrow bones inside like a sparrow’s

in flight, willing to trust the slightest breeze,

the one that sings Yes!  I love you!—

as if words might mean exactly what was heard.

Oh, the risk, the fragile wing.

(first appeared in Bellevue Literary Review)

Water Story

I love the living sound of my plant

     when I water it,

the hiss and suck of agua

pulled through the soil by gravity,

the sweat that appears on the clay pot,

the unwrinkling of the leaves. 

I had a patient once, pregnant mother

morning sick and evening sick, who arrived

hauling her children, carrying her bucket.

We slipped a needle in her vein,

dripped saline into her body’s dry core

and, right before me, the woman

plumped up.  My ivy overflows—

a thread of water and fertilizer returns to earth

through the sink mouth.  I am happy

that all life is circular.  Seven months later,

the woman’s chubby boy popped out, head first.

Blood and water flooded the catch basin,

      spilled over. 

I carry this story on my white shoes.

(first appeared in Prairie Schooner)

 

Get In Touch

Looking forward to hearing from you with comments or questions! I'm always interested in meeting other writers and other caregivers who write about their experiences in this mysterious and magical world we call healthcare.

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