Denise Bundred – Litany of a Cardiologist

Denise Bundred 2019

We are thrilled to tell you more about Denise Bundred and her selected pamphlet, Litany of a Cardiologist, we’ll be publishing next year.

Denise trained as a paediatrician in Cape Town and worked as a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University.

She won the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine in 2016 and came second in 2019. Her poetry has appeared in The Hippocrates Prize Anthologies 2012 – 2019, The Book of Love and Loss (eds. J Hall and R.V. Bailey: 2014) and the Winchester Poetry Prize Anthology in 2016. A collection of her poems was commended by Indigo Press in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize Competition in 2018. She also has poems in Envoi, Magma and Under the Radar magazines. She read with Rebecca Goss at the Manchester Literature Festival in 2013.

We asked each of our 2020 poets to summarise the overall theme of their chosen pamphlet, to tell us why they submitted to Against the Grain and to select two poems for us to publish…

“The heart is central to this pamphlet but it is the heart as the cardiologist sees it – the structure, its function and how it can fail. She addresses a child with a heart condition, a parent and people from history (Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle and William Harvey) who have written about the heart. At times she is merely observing a surgeon, anaesthetist or a visitor on the ward. Occasionally the voice of a parent insists on being heard. The poems take the reader into the emergency room, clinic, children’s ward, operating theatre and intensive care unit to give a medical perspective that the reader may not previously have been aware of.

I chose to submit my work to Against the Grain Press because I like the poetry of all three editors. Jessica’s background in science/healthcare and Abegail’s and Karen’s work in ekphrastic poetry seemed to fit so well with my own writing. I also admire the poetry and accomplishments of poets published by this press. The pamphlets are beautifully produced and something to be extremely proud of. I have also enjoyed The Poetry Shed, which has introduced me to a number of poets whom I would not otherwise have read.”

Litany of a Cardiologist

Cyanotic, hypotensive, acyanotic
blue, mottled, pink (as in baby)

systole, diastole, asystole
contract, relax, stop (as in heart)

arrhythmia, bradycardia, tachycardia
abnormal, slow, quick (as in beat)

pansystolic, ejection, vibratory
long, crescendo, musical (as in murmur)

stenotic, incompetent, bicuspid
narrowed, leaky, deformed (as in valve)

hypertrophic, hypoplastic, dilated
thickened, unformed, enlarged (as in ventricle)

dyspnoeic, crepitations, syncope
breathless, crackles, faint (as in failure)

Congenital Cardiac Anomaly
born with heart disease (as in child).

Leonardo’s Pen

You filled a heart with wax to model the aortic valve in glass
with artery ascending. You pulsed grass seed in water
to visualise the flow.

How else could you know that blood curves
above each cusp to close the valve?

In the Villa Belvedere above the city of a thousand artists,
you mapped the impetus. Your pen hatched vortices on vellum
to match The Virgin’s curls.

You mirror-wrote in ink, arched words around
the diagram and fixed Science to its Art.

Five centuries pass before Magnetic Resonance
can image the heart of a child, asleep in a metal tube.
His aorta on my screen follows your vision in every line.

I watch systole circle like seeds above three cusps.
Diastole compresses them to complete the beat.

Published in Magma: Work. July 2019: 74.

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