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Gwyneth Lewis is perhaps best known for penning the colossal inscription incised over the portals of the Wales Millennium Centre. Her epic poem, A Hospital Odyssey, is similarly monumental. Spanning 150 pages, and organised into 12 parts, it is a remarkable rendering of medical research, the hospital environment, and the experience of loving someone who is gravely ill. Lewis has a self-confessed fascination with journeys. In Two in a Boat,1 she chronicled a fraught voyage taken with her husband in a sailing boat. During their trip he was diagnosed with cancer. This necessitated a new kind of journey for them both, which provided the impetus for A Hospital Odyssey. Here, illness is a shipwreck, and the medical system is an ocean-going liner whose promise of safe passage is often negated by its maze-like architecture in which obstacles lurk.
The protagonist of the poem is Maris, who must navigate the hospital geography and confront a series of challenges that threaten permanently to part her from her beloved husband, Hardy. The narrative opens with Hardy barely alive and drifting away from Maris, off to another country. Maris embarks on a parallel journey, in which the …
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