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Poet Battles Cancer With A Hundred Poems

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Poet Battles Cancer With A Hundred Poems


Poet Battles Cancer With A Hundred Poems

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I met James Nave for the first time 25 Years ago while working on a story for NPR. He was a whirlwind of energy, performing poems out loud in grade schools in his home town of Asheville, North Carolina. He went on to perform poetry all over the world, from La Paz to Paris to the Philippines.

For Nave, it was all about poetry and travel and freedom and creativity. He co- founded workshops like the imaginative Storm Writing Salon. And then, wham, he made an all-too common mid-life discovery. He had health issues; prostate cancer - the big memento mori. He confronted the disease the best way he knew how, with words, vowing to write a poem a day for the hundred days following surgery.

James Nave joins us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the show.

JAMES NAVE: Thank you, Jacki. Good to be here.

LYDEN: You know, I really love reading your poems on your website and on Facebook. And it was like peeking into a diary of your recovery. But I kept thinking to myself why is he doing this, setting himself up this chore from the get-go?

NAVE: What happened was April 1st rolled around, which was the first day after surgery and it was also poetry month. And poets around the country write 30 poems in 30 days. So I thought, well, what else do I have to do? I'm here in the hospital room, nowhere to go, so why not write a poem? So I wrote the first one, the second one, the third one. And then after I arrived at 15, I thought why not go to a hundred.

And I was starting to see themes emerge even in the first 15 poems. So I thought I have to track this all the way through to a hundred.

LYDEN: I wouldn't say your recovery looked fun, but it did look interesting.

NAVE: Well, it was. On some level it was fun, in the sense that things were changing all the time and my identity was changing. And I work up from the surgery in this space that I'd never been in before. So I told somebody was like going on a really nice vacation and all I had to do is climb Everest.


LYDEN: Can we hear the poem "Sunday April 7th, I Had to Look?" You were recovering at some friend's home in the Carolinas.

NAVE: (Reading) This morning, by the Carolina mountainside, I climbed down my spine one bone at a time into unfamiliar territory. I saw veins, arteries, cells, blood, connective tissue, nerves, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and bladder. As I descended I realize that I was in a rain forest filled with things I didn't expect to see: iguanas, bats, lizards, snakes, scaly tails swirls, fairy bluebirds, and butterflies - beautiful, graceful, complicated butterflies. I'd never imagined millions of butterflies were free inside my body. A purple one landed on a bush. Then another, red with pink dots. Then another, big brown eyes. I arrived at my pelvis, stood between my hips; I thought I've been attacked by blades and fingers. As I surveyed the cavernous territory, I saw a repair. Nothing to weep about here, I thought. With that I climbed in my spine one bone at a time. This afternoon, my surgeon called. He said my margins were clear - the cancer had not spread.

LYDEN: Can you talk to us a little about your prostate cancer and what effect it's had on you, and why you're eager to talk about it?

NAVE: I'm not sure exactly when I first realized, maybe it was two or three days after the surgery, that this was a permanent change and that I was going to have to do something to adjust to it. And I was going to have to be very active in that. So I think that's one of the things that propelled me with these poems.

LYDEN: What about the question of virility? I mean that's something that's really important to human beings of both sexes.

NAVE: Well, it's true. And I've been as vital a male as anybody could be. Even so, having this change which basically when you have your prostate removed it alters the way you think sexually, it's certainly a little more refined and it's more creative. And I'm responding to women in more open ways than I responded in the past, and it's much more creative.

LYDEN: When is your 100th poem due?

NAVE: I think my 100th poem is going up on July the 9th.


LYDEN: Well, we wish you all good luck with that.

NAVE: Thank you so much, Jacki. It's been a real pleasure to be here and talk about this a bit.

LYDEN: And to be with you. And you have a good prognosis, right?

NAVE: I do. It's great actually. I have to be very careful with my health and pay attention. But the cancer is gone and everything looks like it's going to be fine.

LYDEN: Well, thanks again for spending the time.

My friend and poet James Nave. For more of Nave's poems, go to our Facebook page,

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