Culture By by Lorena Gutierrez 6791 Views

Could Michael Lee Be The Next Shel Silverstein?



Can an urgent care doctor also be a published poet of quirky and off-beat poems that emulate Shel Silverstein’s style?

Dr. Michael Alan Lee answers this query with his self-published debut book, Not Gonna Write Poems: A Poetry Book for All the Non Poets, inspired by children’s poet and musician Shel Silverstein.  The multifaceted artist’s most memorable works are witty, absurd, and imaginative poem anthologies that address issues like anxiety, illness, and values in an unconventional manner.  In a similar fashion, Dr. Lee’s collection of 78 poems focus on the mundane, eccentric, and poignant topics of daily family life. The author asserts that making poetry a relatable and shareable family affair was the main reason for writing the book.

What makes Michael A. Lee a unique poet is his primary career as an urgent care physician. Poetry and medicine share the unique bond of healing both mind and body. With their verses, poets strive to shed light and harmony to disorder and disruption.  Physicians endeavour to deliver structure and solutions in combating diseases. A person who is both poet and physician has the capacity to express artistic talent and the potential to enhance healing abilities.

While the physician-poet remains an uncommon occurrence, well-known scribes like John Keats and William Carlos Williams remain notable.  Keats abandoned his medical career to dedicate his life to writing Romantic poetry. In contrast, Williams is an example of the limited number of physicians who are active physicians and maintain a dynamic interest in penning verses.

With the debut of Not Gonna Write Poems, Michael Lee joins the select group of doctors who have harnessed the poetry and medicine connection. Lee’s medical career spans 22 years as an internist and urgent care physician in New York.  Currently, he serves as AFC’s Medical Director in East Meadow. Dr. Lee admits he dabbled in writing poems in high school and later as a hobby.  He began writing the poems that appear in his initial book in 2017.

The inspiration for writing was twofold.  In the book’s preface, Lee describes his wife and daughter’s love of poetry.  Second, the Lee family grew enamored with the illustrated poetry books written by the late Shel Silverstein.  As Silverstein’s works became reading staples in the Lee household, the physician wanted to write his own children’s poetry anthology. He hoped to meet the author and musician but discovered that Silverstein died in 1999.

In tribute to Silverstein, Lee embarked on a year-long journey to write and illustrate the book’s playful, humorous, and touching compositions. The physician-poet makes his initial publication a family affair.  Ten-year-old daughter, Jessica, assists her father in sketching the poems’ delightful and whimsical drawings. The comical illustrations add the visual element that personalizes the poems and gives each one a mischievous and relatable personality.  

In reading the poems, I saw the influence of Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and Uncle Shelby’s Kiddie Corner in poems like “Allergies” and “When I Grow Up.” The former, a vivid description of the trials of suffering from seasonal hay fever and the desire to donate allergies to the local thrift store. The latter captures the perplexity children feel about what career to pursue as an adult.

Lee prevails in making poetry accessible to children and adults, especially if the thought of reading poetry evokes boredom, indifference, or misery. Many of the selections cause laughter especially if reading the verses-out-loud. Introducing the poems to children also gives them the opportunity to learn to love reading and art in a fun and lighthearted manner.  Several of the poems deal with themes familiar to kids like fear of insects, homework drudgery, and boogey monsters. Lee writes about these topics in descriptive, simple phrasing and irregular rhyming verses that are easy to read and enjoyable to share with family and friends. The author deftly concentrates on using lighthearted language that creates a warm, inclusive, and inspiring setting.

Despite the humorous and relaxed approach, many of Lee’s poem touch on serious subjects.  Anger-management issues in “The Angry Young Man” and cancer in “Mi Tia (My Aunt)” become approachable.  As Lee presents these difficult subjects in a comforting but straightforward manner, the poems present teachable and relatable moments. Parents have the opportunity to address these prickly but real-life topics using Lee’s verses as an introduction to ease children’s fears on sensitive topics.  The physician-poet also presents a selection of fables with subtle twists to foster collaboration and appreciation of differences without moralizing. My favourites include “The Owl and the Mole” and “The Tortoise and the Hare (The Alternative Story)”.

Overall, Michael Lee’s Not Gonna Write Poems succeeds by making the ordinary and mundane humorously and thoughtfully poetic. Lee succeeds in adapting Silverstein vision with this first collection.  

While the physician-poet attained a milestone by self-publishing his book in February 2019, Agora Publishing wants to take Not Gonna Write Poems to an international level through the organization’s mass marketing specialization.  Michael Lee is one of several authors featured at the Agora Publishing booth at the upcoming Book Expo NYC.  You can read more about Dr. Lee and his poetry book on his website page: Mikeleethepoet.com.

From May 29 to the 31st, Book Expo America calls New York City’s Jacob Javits Convention Center home. During this three-day whirlwind, book trade professionals from around the world convene at North America’s largest gathering of authors, agents, editors, booksellers and publishers in the country’s literary capital. Attendees gain the pulse of a shifting marketplace and the industry’s digital transformation.  

Not Gonna Write Poems: A Poetry Book for all the Non-Poets

Poems by Michael A. Lee

Drawings by Michael and Jessica Lee

Available on website page:  Mikeleethepoet.com

ePub (93 p) ISBN  9781483495644

Paperback ISBN 9781483495651

Hardcover ISBN 9781483497129