Doctor prescribes ‘Waiting Room Reader’ as impatient treatment

A book publisher in New Jersey is trying to crack the doctor’s office market with an anthology of poetry designed to reduce anxiety while in the waiting room.

There used to be back issues of magazines such as People or Newsweek fanned out on a low table in waiting rooms of doctor’s offices. Now there’s usually a TV tuned to game shows or CNN.

Dr. Rob Risimini says that is, respectively, boring or anxiety-producing. So the dean of student affairs at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Camden started leaving copies of a poetry anthology called “The Waiting Room Reader” in patient lounges across the street from Cooper Hospital.

“I was wondering how it would play in Camden,” said Risimini, who had a 35-year career as a family doctor. “Very many of our patients are Hispanic-speaking, for one. And, two, almost all are impoverished and barely know where their next meal is coming from, let alone reading poetry.”

Patients can keep the books if they wish, and many did. He started with 300 copies; a year later, Risimini is left with seven.

“The Waiting Room Reader” is edited and published by CavanKerry Press, a non-profit in New Jersey. The short poems in the reader (all are less than a page long) were chosen for their uplifting quality.

“It’s a very delicate balance you run between the kind of thing you get from self-help, or ‘inspirational’ writing, which says: pray and believe and think positively and you’ll be better, don’t have negative thoughts,” said publisher Joan Cusack Handler. “That’s not what we’re doing. We want to introduce people to something else that they can focus on when they are feeling anxious.”

You won’t find Robert Frost or William Carlos Williams here; CavanKerry mostly publishes contemporary poetry, and the works were selected from its stable of writers. Few, if any, are household names.

Handler–who included her own poetry in the anthology–said she selected accessible works that can be read and absorbed easily.

One of Risimini’s favorites is by Teresa Carson, called “I Like Saying No.”

“Pure No–straight from my source,

not diluted by I’m Sorry But,

not tainted by white lies meant

to soften the blow or appease,

Not shamed by the wish

Maybe she didn’t hear it.

Genetically altered No

as indestructible as the roach.”

Even though the book is given away, Handler says she has trouble convincing hospital administrators to say “yes.”

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