A Poet or a Doctor?

Another brain-bending question arose in the Gotham Office today, and it went like this: Who is more important to society, poets or doctors? (This was a better question than the first one: Would it be funny if Beetlejuice took a Gotham class?)

The answer seemed easy. Doctors are. Poets don’t contribute to society the way that our medical professionals do, and they never will. As Alex pointed out, if he’s having a heart attack, he’d rather have a doctor, not a poet.

So when would you want a poet rather than a doctor?

When you want to hear a poem. But how often does that actually happen? For me, never. I have never, in my life, thought to myself “I could really go for a poem right about now.” I’m sure that some do have that craving, though. I won’t judge. Still, even those diehard poetry gurus would probably admit that they’d rather have a doctor than even their favorite poet when they’re passing a kidney stone.

The question then evolved into what it probably should have been in the first place. Who would you rather lose: all artists (of every kind) or all doctors?

Katie brought up a good point—it’s about perspective. Short-term, losing all doctors would be an absolute disaster, but long-term, losing all artists would put a halt on our exploration of what life is all about, which, in and of itself, is what life is about. So what would the quality of life be without art?

Another way to look at it is this: Would you rather live a longer life without art, or a shorter life with art?

Maddie made a good point too—without art, what’s the meaning of anything? As Dana put it, it’s incalculable to discern how much art is impacting the world. It’s in the air, in the ethos, it’s everywhere. What the world would look like without art is quite literally impossible to fathom because it’s been ingrained into society in ways that go beyond just painting a picture or singing a song.

As such, the responses to the question were unanimous—everyone would take the shorter life with art. But then again, we all work for a creative writing school. We’re a bit biased.

So we want to hear from you—what would you rather lose? All the doctors or all the artists? A shorter life with art or a longer life without it?

8 Replies to “A Poet or a Doctor?”

  1. I think we need poets as well as medical doctors–one heals the soul and the other the body.

    This is a fine blog. Please continue to tell readers when there are new posts. As a writer who blogs about writing, I do that as well.

  2. I just started a writing group in my city, Edmonton, Alberta, where I invited up to 10 people per month to share their writing with each other and receive feedback. One man came who had immigrated to Canada, and had become an engineer. He had bought a house, settled in the country, married and started a family. But he had not followed his dream of becoming a writer and an artist. The essay he read was heartbreaking and passionate. I think this answers the question of would you rather be a poet or a doctor. My calling is poetry and writing, as well as bringing people out to write, which can be as healing as medicine. But what if you have not followed your path? I think of the Dr. who wrote ‘When Breath Becomes Air,’ he bridged medicine and art in his life. If we are truly Doctors, we are also practicing our art, it seems to me, for there is poetry in all professions we choose if they bring us both mastery and joy.

  3. Until I turned sixty, I was fairly complete as a person, so i’ll address this from that perspective. I would choose to live a shorter life with art(it’s) simply because of the beauty that reasonates with the addition of their gifts. Art enhances every sense and allows us to revisit endlessly through memory. Even though time and disease might ravage our bodies and minds, art cuts through those losses and preserves our quality of life.
    Now post sixty, I am what I was meant to be, poet, and could not separate art from myself without death. I live each day with joy
    watching and writing until I cannot, complete in a way I never dreamed.

  4. In Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter discusses answering MU to questions like this. MU, he says “unasks” the question.

    To say if A or B is more “important” we’d have to come up with a single scale of “importance” and there isn’t one.

  5. There’s this from a poet (William Carlos Williams) who was also a doctor:

    It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.

  6. This is absolutely a great question, especially for people like me because I am a physician AND an aspiring writer. I love science and Medicine and the work I’ve gotten to do with thousands of patients over the years. Additionally I’ve enjoyed watercolor painting, marble sculpting and writing. I think the BEST life is the one combining Medicine and art. So I guess I can’t conceive of life without both.

  7. Re: “Still, even those diehard poetry gurus would probably admit that they’d rather have a doctor than even their favorite poet when they’re passing a kidney stone.”

    But what if their favorite poet is also a doctor, like William Carlos Williams?

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