Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Nurse Poet

Veneta Masson has practiced nursing for 35 years, mostly in inner-city Washington, DC. Along the way, she found an outlet to express everything she was witnessing and experiencing -- poetry. Veneta started putting together essays and poems about her nursing life and today has two collections in print, Ninth Street Notebook (short pieces) and Rehab at the Florida Avenue Grill (poems). She's also part of a community of nurses who write verse influenced by their profession. Call them Nurse Poets.

VT: How did you get started writing poetry?

Veneta: I wasn't one of those who always wrote. I started keeping a journal while I was involved in the nitty-gritty of primary health care. It wasn't poetry in the beginning, just a place where I'd dump stuff at the end of the day I didn't know what to do with. As I added material, it started to look like narrative poetry. But I realized I didn't know diddly about Poetry with a capital "P." So I took poetry workshops for a few years at a wonderful writing center we have here.

VT: How did you start publishing your poems and writing?

Veneta: I started writing poems for the annual report of the clinic where I worked. Then I began to wonder if I could submit my poems elsewhere. The Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Nursing both have poetry pages in their magazines. So I sent my work to them. To this day, most of my writing has been published in the realm of healthcare.

VT: How about your books?

Veneta: I thought, why buy a red sports car in middle age when I could publish my books myself? So I created my own imprint called the Sage Femme Press. In the past this was considered less than kosher if you wanted to be taken seriously. But everything is changing, thanks to Amazon and word-of-mouth. My books have even been adopted by a number of schools.

VT: Do you face any particular challenges as a poet who's also a nurse?

Veneta: With my nursing background, the thing that's been challenging is that I'm right on the edge of sentimentality -- the grand taboo in most writing these days. But with nursing you're, of course, in the middle of life and death drama. I now review essays and poetry submissions for the American Journal of Nursing. They're often about death -- ironically we feel most alive in these on-the-edge experiences. I have to be careful in my writing not to call fall over that edge. But the discipline of nursing has been my seedbed, my writing garden. That's where it all comes from.

Veneta graciously sent us one of her poems, called "The Nurse's Job," originally published in the journal "Nursing and Health Care Perspectives." Click here to read it.


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Wednesday March 5th 2008, 1:47 PM
Comment by: K. R.
I have been a critical care nurse for 11 years. I am cynical, burnt out and tired. At this point in my career, I still love the science of disease and medicine, but I would love to escape the delivery. The Nurse's Job sums it up perfectly.
Thursday June 5th 2008, 10:30 PM
Comment by: Val S.
I don't think that "The Nurse's Job" is about escape; I think it is about deep involvement in humanity, and the "wanting to always be there" for one who has needs. My sense is that the poem is about conflicting obligations--to work and family. In the end it is another nurse who offers solace.

We, as nurses, must take care of each other. The job requires that we work to understand each other and to support each other. When support isn't there, escape seems the only route to take.

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