Friday, 18 January 2013

Three Oncologists

Three figures though the blur of tears;
Peering at you over their shoulders.
An X-ray.
Indistinct mass:
Soft edged but tumour-dense.
The streaks of blood vessels feeding growth. Carrying off cells to      metastasize elsewhere?

Three oncologists conferring quietly,
Regardingly, confidently.
An X-ray.
Indistinct mass,
Visibly shrinking at the margins.
The streaks of blood vessels carrying drugs to their target.

Three scientists fading into the background,
Their work done.
An X-ray.
Indistinct mass,
Fading fast.
The streaks of tears on joyful cheeks.

This is the first of three poems I have entered in the National Galleries of Scotland annual creative writing competition.  The competition is for poetry or prose inspired by anything in the Galleries' permanent collection.

The inspiration for my poem is Ken Currie's triple portrait Three Oncologists (Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee), which is to be found in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Located in Queen Street in Edinburgh, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is housed in the oldest purpose-built portrait gallery in the world. Opened in 1889, the building, which was designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, has recently undergone a major refurbishment, and is well worth a visit.

Personally, I can only take so many portraits of dead kings and queens or busts of the great and good, so I visit as much for the temporary exhibitions, the photography, the architecture of the building itself, and - if I’m honest - the cafĂ©, as I do for the paintings and sculpture in the permanent collection.  I do however make an exception for the particular work above which I find haunting, brilliant, enthralling.  What I also like, is that in a gallery that was set up as "a shrine for Scotland’s heroes and heroines", collecting today does not confine itself to a narrow populist approach to that tenet by simply adding images of football managers and actors (no matter how arresting is the artwork thereof), but also finds a place for scientists.

So one of today’s recommendations is – rather obviously – Ken Currie’s painting Three Oncologists. Another – equally obviously - is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, for both its architecture and its contents.

As I thought about the architecture of the portrait gallery and the three oncologists from Ninewells, I was however reminded that Ninewells is the site of the first Frank Gehry designed building in the UK: Maggie’s DundeeSo my final recommendation today is the great architecture and landscape architecture of the Maggie's centres.

The brainchild of Maggie Keswick Jencks, and carried forward by the energy of her family and the trustees, volunteers, and employees of the charity she helped to found, Maggie's is an amazing organisation, so please follow this link and give them a donation.

If you, or your loved ones, are ever unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cancer, then do use the facilities of your local centre or of the online centre (or, in the USA, Canada, or Japan, those of affiliated organisation The Wellness Community). And even if your life is never touched by cancer then still visit your local Maggie's centre on Doors Open Day / Heritage Open Day and marvel, not only at the great architecture and landscaping, but at the great work that they do.

I would have liked to have included a reproduction of Three Oncologists in the posting, but I'm still waiting to hear back from the National Galleries of Scotland how much they are going to charge me to licence the image.  Hopefully not too much, in which case I shall update the posting.

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Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.