Dr. Neal Hall: the poet surgeon

Dr. Neal Hall was a eye surgeon for a long time till he felt that the poet within him wanted to speak about the injustice and the inhumanity around him. His first book, Nigger for life, that spoke about the racial and other forms of discrimination, won him many national and international awards. Since then there has been no looking back for him. Dr. Hall has been performing around the world and his next poetry reading will be in Hyderabad on 21st June, 2015 at Our Sacred Space.

From a surgeon to a poet, rather from a scalpel to a pen, how has the journey been?

I believe there is a poet in each and every one of us. The path to its full realization is as diverse as the many faces which inhabit this earth. The path of training and practicing as an eye surgeon, I now suspect, was a circuitous divergent paths that led me to poetry.  The racism and indignities seen and experienced, even within the four corners of the noble profession of medicine, amplified the internal “it” voice that drives the poet’s hand and heart to pen and page for questions, answers and salvation. The African American poet Sandra Turner Barnes is quick to tell you that poetry saved her life. For me, poetry provides clearer eyes to see and live life more authentically and deeply. Poetry helps me see the eternal connections between me and all that exist with or without a breath.

What influenced or motivated you to pick up the pen or type?

An unanswered pain and lack of understanding of how inhumane and cruel we can be to each other, influences me and my work.  I needed to find and make sense of it all.

What is your writing routine like; how do you balance being a surgeon and a poet?

a. Writing Routine:

I think it is far more important to be a good listener of life and a transcriber thereof, than to pursue being a writer with a fixed daily writing routine.

I discovered when I learned to “Passively Listen Intently “ patiently and not chase the butterfly, the “it“ voice comes and land upon my shoulder as the butterfly and tells me what to transcribe. My only routine is to always be in a position and internal place to “Passively Listen Intently“ during and between breathes.

b. Balancing:

I have stopped trying to balance endeavoring to be a poet and a practicing physician. Early on, I scheduled everything around writing. As my poetry life grew, I decided to do just poetry. It is where my heart and air lay. I have ceased a full-time practice short of volunteer opportunities to provide care, which fits around my transcribing the ‘ it ‘ voice.

I loved being a medical and surgical eye physician, so it was not a decision to take lightly, but some decisions are not entirely yours to make. They sometimes decide and force you to do. Poetry was such the tyrant to me.

How long do you take to pen a poem? How many drafts, on an average?

 As short or as long a time it takes to hear, be, live and transcribe the poem!

Can you tell more about the visit to India?

I was introduced to Hyderabad, India via my poetry reading and discussions at the January 2015 Hyderabad Literary Festival.  I was honored and humbled by the wonderful reception I received by many in the audience during and after my reading. Of the many wonderful individuals and organizations requesting my return, the Hyderabad Council for Social Development , under the leadership of Ms. Kalpana Kannibiran, created a 4 week Poet/Scholar-in-Residency to facilitate a return. The Council created and coordinated writing, reading and speaking opportunities for me throughout Hyderabad.  I am deeply grateful for the opportunities they’ve provided.

You are also a performance poet; any reaction from the audience that stayed with you for long? 

On the contrary, I am not, nor do I consider myself, a performance poet. I endeavor to be simply a  ‘ poet ‘. The passion, at which I endeavor to live through my work and to have my work live through me, to achieve that singular goal of ‘poet ‘, is often mistaken as performance.

When did you think of penning your first book? And how was the process of getting it published?

 a. When did I think of penning my first book?

 When I painfully discovered in unspoken America – the real America – and, in many parts of the world -spoken and unspoken – that my skin color was the one thing by which I was “first” judged, by which I was “first” measured, “first”, against which my life and accomplishments were metered diminished value, dignity, equality and justice; all of which have everything to do with choice, opportunity, power and freedom not just in America, but throughout the world.

b. And how was the process of getting it published?

Three publishers were interested in publishing my first book. The problem was I found the publishing contracts to be onerous and in some cases predatory. I then learned about and turned to self-publishing, via Print on Demand services. Once I progressed along the learning curve, I put together a publishing team consisting of Print on Demand services, a graphic designer, a good interior book layout designer, and an editor. It’s been fun and you control and own the entire creative process. The internet then became a wonderful vehicle to get my work out into the world. One can visit my site at Nealhallpoet.com


How easy/difficult was it to focus on your other books, after the enormous success of your first book? 

Poets and poetry are on a long continuum; a single lifelong breath of air in and out. Creating and the insatiable need, push, drive to hear and transcribe the continuous universal stream of the ‘ it ‘ speaking, make focusing so very easy. The imperative is to keep finished work in your rear view window, as new work appears before your horizon of  “passive listening intently”.


Do you see a change in the way people perceive things after your performance or reading your work? 

What I first feel and see in the audience is an affirmation of my penned thoughts and me. Most likely because that is what we insecure artisans all look for  ‘ first ‘ with regards to our work.

In some cases, I see uneasiness in people struggling with the reality of our inhumanity and, perhaps, their role in it.

In some cases, there is a visible moving of the heart and mind. Whether that manifests itself in a change in that person or not, rests with that person and their struggle with inhumanity and their quiet role in it. Appalling silence of the good people is a far worse injustice to mankind than the strident clamor of the bad people.

There are many who come with well wishes and affirming comments after a read. But, I am under no illusion that those who do not like what I have to say, or how it was said, are less inclined to share this with me. They are more inclined to just walk away.

I cannot, and if I am doing it right, should not, please everyone in the audience with what I have to say. If I am pleasing everyone, then I need to say what I have to say differently and more passionately.