Tender Fences by Richard M. Berlin


Richard M. Berlin’s fifth collection of poems, Tender Fences, spans the arc of the poet’s career as a doctor and psychiatrist. Beginning with his family’s hopes and expectations, and his own dream to become a doctor, Berlin explores the challenges of medical and psychiatric training, his years of practice, and the deep rewards that grow from healing relationships structured by a “tender fence” which provides the necessary boundaries for closeness and distance. Berlin’s voice touches on themes of intimacy, love, the doctor-patient relationship, the drama of psychotherapy, a doctor’s sense of responsibility, transience,  aging, and the satisfactions that come from a healer’s life. With these poems, Richard M. Berlin confirms that medical and psychiatric practice fit well with Pablo Neruda’s description of poetry as, “Entrance into the depth of things in a headlong act of love.”


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 122
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: March 2024
  • ISBN 978-1-962847-02-5


A twenty first century William Carlos Williams —Booklist

Clear, honest, direct, and – what doctors usually can’t afford to be – vulnerable, Richard M. Berlin’s poems make me feel good about the health of American medicine and poetry. —Charles Harper Webb

Berlin’s writing sheds all doctrines and poses. His poetry is about the revelation that emerges at the edge between our knowledge of the world provided to us by science or maturation, and the chaotic understructure that throws up in front of us surprises that are both wanted and unwanted. —Paul R. Fleishman, MD

Berlin’s poems reveal truths that spring up inside of coherent, beautiful language. —Paul R. Fleishman, MD


Chemistry Lesson
for Susanne

I was a Jewish boy from the Jersey burbs
raised on corned beef and Milano cookies.
She was a Mennonite farmgirl
whose father shot deer for dinner.
And we were med students who’d fallen
in love on our first date, pressed together
three months later in her galley kitchen,
butter and garlic sizzling in a black
cast iron pan, steam rising from a pot
of boiling water, torn Romaine waiting
to be dressed in a burled wooden bowl,
our trance broken only by her timer’s
reminder to cook linguini and toss
a Caesar salad. But I’d forgotten
to stop for mayo!
Back then I believed
Hellmann’s “Real” Mayonnaise
was an element on the Periodic Table
with an atomic weight nestled
between Manganese and Molybdenum,
a primordial substance the Hellmanns
pumped from deep wells into millions
of blue-lidded bottles they shipped
across America. But before I made
a hero’s gallant sprint to the market
she forgave me with a smile, foraged
eggs from the fridge, cracked them,
separated the yolks, squeezed lemon
juice, sprinkled salt, and whisked in
oil until atoms fused for the miracle
of mayonnaise, her steady green eyes
and naked display of farmgirl skill
the chemistry that bonded us for life.


Richard M. BerlinRichard M. Berlin received his undergraduate and medical education at Northwestern University. After graduation, he completed residency training in psychiatry and a fellowship in Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, a subspecialty focused on working alongside other medical colleagues to help patients with their physical and psychological recovery from severe medical disorders like cancer, heart disease, trauma, and strokes. An Instructor in Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, Berlin is the author of sixty scientific papers and has edited two books, Sleep Disorders in Psychiatric Practice and Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process.

In his 40’s, Dr. Berlin began writing poetry. His first collection of poems, How JFK Killed My Father, won the Pearl Poetry Prize (2002) and was published by Pearl Editions. He used the prize money to establish a creative writing award for medical, nursing, and doctoral students at University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. The Award is now in its twentieth year. His second collection of poetry, Secret Wounds, won the 2010 John Ciardi Prize in Poetry from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and was published by BkMk Press.  Secret Wounds was also selected as the best general poetry book of 2011 by USA Book News.  His third collection, Practice (2015), published by Brick Road Poetry Press, was a Finalist for the Brick Road Poetry Prize. Berlin’s fourth poetry book, Freud On My Couch (2021), was published by Dos Madres Press. He is also the author of two poetry chapbooks, Code Blue (Winner of the Poetry Society of South Carolina Chapbook Prize, 1999) and The Prophecy (Pudding House Press Chapbook Prize, 2010). Berlin’s work has also received Finalist awards for the Kate Tufts Discovery Prize, and the Paris Review Prize. His poem, “The Fisherman,” was commissioned by Mark Ludwig for the anthology, Liberation: Poems on Freedom by Internationally Renowned Poets.

Berlin’s poems have appeared in a broad array of anthologies, literary journals, and medical journals including his column “Poetry of the Times,” which has featured one of his poems every month for the past twenty six years in Psychiatric Times, the most influential and widely read psychiatric publication in America, with over 40,000 print copies and over one million website visitors each month. Since 2020, he has been the host of a weekly Psychiatric Times video series, “Any Good Poem,” in which he reads a poem of his choosing. He lives in a small, rural town in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts.

Additional information

Weight 8.2 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .5 in