Comfort Measures Only

New and Selected Poems, 1994–2016

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: Published: September 2018

Author: Rafael Campo

Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Poetry, Medicine and Health > Medical Humanities

In Comfort Measures Only, Rafael Campo bears witness to the unspeakable beauty bound up with human suffering. Gathered from his over twenty-year career as a poet-physician, these eighty-nine poems—thirty-one of which have never been previously published in a collection—pull back the curtain in the ER, laying bare our pain and joining us all in spellbinding moments of pathos. The poet, who is also truly a healer, revives language itself—its sounds channeled through our hearts and lungs, its rhythms amplified through the stethoscope—to make meaning of our bewilderment when our bodies so eloquently and yet wordlessly fail us. Campo’s transcendent poems, in all their modernity amidst the bleep of heart monitors and the wail of ambulance sirens, remind us of what the ancients understood: that poetry sustains us, and whether we live or die, through what we can imagine and create in our shared voices we may yet achieve immortality.


"In every poem, as in his and our lives generally, the world goes reeling around him, and regardless of whether he has a good bedside manner, he’s a compelling companion in verse. His poetic success depends on an unobtrusive mastery of meter—does any other American these days write better iambic pentameters? He also usually writes in forms, as simple as blank verse, as intricate as villanelles and variously rhymed tercets, and as a form demands, rhyme, though using assonance and/or consonance more than full homophony. This doctor-poet is as careful in his avocation as his poems imply he is in his vocation." — Ray Olson, Booklist

"Campo's distinguished career as a writer and aptly named 'poet-physician' spans more than two decades and is wonderfully represented here in this streamlined new volume that focuses on the writer's gay life and clinical career. . . . Fans of Campo's work will find much to savor in this treasury from a physician with his heart in all the right places." — Jim Piechota, Bay Area Reporter

"A powerful collection of this masterful poet’s work. . . . he poems in this collection vary into celebrations of family and heritage alongside lush poems of love and the erotic. And always regardless of the poem’s obvious concern is the poet’s attention to the body in the poem; the doctor perhaps always at work at the hospital but also at the page. Campo’s careful and precise depictions of our mortality not only in harrowing moments of medical crisis but also in the ecstatic moments of human connection serve as testimony to our human condition." — Noah Stetzer, A&U Magazine

"Rafael Campo is a doctor who delivers excellent and compassionate care as well as a writer who steps back, aware of all the complexities of life, illness, and mortality, to offer us these excellent and compassionate poems." — Cortney Davis, Lit Med

"Campo puts interdisciplinarity into practice with a vulnerability and humility that I frequently return to as a reminder of what it takes to do that work ethically and substantively. This is difficult, painful work. . . .Throughout the collection, we see Campo reimagining the relationship between caregiver and patient in provocatively interdependent terms." — Travis Chi Wing Lau, Synapsis

"At the mid-career mark Rafael Campo has already created a significant legacy by writing with empathy, humility, and attention to craft. As a formal poet he is among the best today, and no physician-poet has ever captured the tragedies, nuances, and intensity of work in a hospital as well as he has. The best news is that, as good as his poems have been, we can anticipate even greater comforts because his work is still improving and his vision still widening."
  — A.M. Juster, Claremont Review of Books

"This book of poetry functions as a tour de force medical text focused on perception that is human enough for the lay reader . . . while for a physician or medical provider, this is the stuff that provides oxygen and glucose to our very cellular experience as providers." — Patrick S. McFarlane, Family Medicine

"Though Rafael Campo's poems are by no means sunny, his uncommonly compassionate views of patients gripped by illness—try his collection Comfort Measures Only—will likely offer inspiration. . . ." — Nicole Lamy, New York Times Book Review

“Rafael Campo is one acquainted with the night—in detail. Wrestling with the lives and deaths of patients who are always individuals to him, and with his own personal blend of body and soul, love and guilt, compassion and exhaustion, fighting pain with the magnificent weaponry of language and cadence, in poem after poem he says to us what he cannot say to the man in the bed: ‘You’re crying, just like me; you are alive.’” — Alicia Ostriker, author of Waiting for the Light

“The poems of Rafael Campo bear witness to human suffering and transform that witness into art, yet never exploit the suffering or sacrifice the art. Indeed, this is an unflinching eye, seeing what most of us would rather not see. Listen to the beating heart of these poems, the breathing lungs of these poems. The luminous language and the luminous vision offer proof that poetry, too, is a healing art, that storytelling is medicinal. In these times, we need poets of eloquent empathy more than ever, and there is no poet more eloquent or empathetic than Rafael Campo.” — Martín Espada, author of Vivas to Those Who Have Failed

Comfort Measures Only is the exploration of the sonic life of the body synthesized through the pumping amplifier of left and right ventricle. These nearly two hundred pages of twenty years of poetic witness provide a human swallowing test: How hard can we bite down on bone and not break a tooth? How much rose water and blood can we take in without drowning? Rafael Campo believes grace and levitation are possible until the last breath.” — Nikky Finney, author of The World is Round


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Rafael Campo is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of several books, including Alternative Medicine, The Enemy, and Landscape with Human Figure, all also published by Duke University Press, and The Desire to Heal: A Doctor’s Education in Empathy, Identity, and Poetry.

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