Poetry Preview: Dysphoria by Shane Neilson

I suppose it goes with out saying that different people have different tastes in poetry, different reasons for seeking it out, different ways of reading and enjoying it. For myself, I have a penchant for poetry that challenges me both intellectually and emotionally. I enjoy thinking about allusions and musing on unfamiliar or uncommon terminology. I like a good pop culture reference, and I adore linguistic wordplay. But most of all, I think, I am in awe of the type of poetry that makes me feel, and Shane Neilson’s verses do that like no other poetry that I’ve read.

In Dysphoria, Neilson continues the work that he began in previous volumes (Complete Physical and On Shaving Off His Face). These are poems about affect, presenting poems not just about emotion, but about the manifestation of emotional response. Pain and mental illness are difficult topics, but Neilson does a good job conveying the complicated tangle of emotions at their core—agony entwined with erudition, fear laced with love and grief.

Dysphoria Cover

It is not an easy book to read by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s what makes it so worthwhile. This is an important collection that will give readers something to think about through many re-readings.

Here’s a sneak peek to whet your appetite for the book:


The Good Doctor Signs Off on the Case

On the anatomy table I once extracted
a message embedded deep in a chest,
posterior to the heart, anterior to the spine:

‘We are so selfish that if the resurrection power were lodged in our
hands, we should immediately run to the graves of our dear departed,
and fetch them.’

When placed on the scale,
the message had no weight.

I lost my father when I was six years old.

I do not want him.

It is my own self I grieve.

In his final year, Louis XIV was 76.
With gangrene spreading from his feet,
the Sun King recited Psalm 70:

Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina.

There is a different message
in me to be cut out, a message
as rigid as my body.

Students, wield your atlases without
tears and place my body in genuflection.
I die composed in your company.

The psalm of anatomy tables: I hope
the sufferings of our fellows from causes
mentioned may find relief by the attention
of students who grieve their own selves.

I turn you back! I’m weightless.

For more poetry samples from Dysphoria, visit the title information page on our website.


About the Author

SHANE NEILSON is a family physician and author who has published in the genres of memoir, short fiction, biography, literary criticism and poetry. In his medical and poetic practices, he focuses on mental illness, pain and disability. He currently acts as editor for Victoria, B.C. publisher Frog Hollow Press. Though he lives in Oakville, Ontario, all of his work is rooted in rural New Brunswick.


What an exciting addition to our poetry list! I sincerely hope you all enjoy it, and I encourage you to check out the author’s previous books, Complete Physical and On Shaving Off His Face, to get the full effect of each collection.

All the best,

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.