Poetry and Medicine: Prize Winners

 

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In April I attended the 7th International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine where the 2016 Hippocrates Awards were announced. A fascinating day, the programme included critiques on Philip Larkin’s The Building, Celia de Freine Blood Debts, Mary Kennan Herbert’s Skin Man series, as well as a presentation on Poetry, Psychoanalysis and Ageing, and a discussion around the evidence for the benefits of poetry for patients. Poetry readings of course dominated the proceedings, not just from winning and commended poets, but also sessions from Rafael Campo and Wendy French. A day truly rich in poetry, it left much to reflect on in terms of the potential for the genre to impact on the illness experience.

Winners for the three categories within the Hippocrates Awards are featured below. These and many other poems selected by the judges are available in the 2016 anthology.

Poems very gratefully reproduced by permission of the poets and the Hippocrates Prize.

 

2016 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine

 

NHS First Prize

Denise Bundred (Kitchiner)

 

A Cardiologist Seeks Certainty

I spread cold gel on a newborn chest

rest the probe on creamy skin, angle

between ribs, rotate to find a heart

no larger than the tiny fist

pushing me away.

 

Two dimensions defy translation into three

as I locate chambers

amid the maze of vessels.

A millimeter of movement and the image melts

to snowstorm on my screen.

I re-trace arcs of ultrasound to relieve

the twist of doubt.

Adrenalin dries saliva as I strive to decide

whether the aorta arches

to the left or right.

 

The nurse checks the prescription

against an ampoule, initials in black ink

secure in her certainty of drug and dose.

 

The surgeon weighs my words

to determine his incision

shape his operation

as the incubator trundles towards theatre

escorting mother and the nurse.

 

I resolve inconsistencies

into diagnosis, wipe the sweat

from my hands, write my notes;

make my decision.

 

 

Open First Prize

Owen Lewis

 

At Tribeca’s Edge

This evening, I walk to the water where the Hudson opens

itself to the sea, and the sea with its rough cross-currents

is in the air and in the light—the light spectacular, clear,

illuminates the buildings of Newark across the water-way

with gold. The shimmering gold at their backs, they gather

to watch the harbor—the skiffs, prow-high, skip like kids

on a great lawn, a run-away pair braid ribbons of bridal white.

What will I tell my colleagues, gathering in a nearby auditorium?

 

I am thinking of my students, this first evening of Autumn,

young doctors eager with learning, still saddened by the sick.

The best are afraid. They’ve heard their voices tired, darkened

and hoarse. A ferry glides by, its wake spilling the embankment,

so close it seems we must hitch a ride, step in—and the light

between the distant buildings prying free, the sails opening with light.

 

 

Young Poets Prize

Catherine Wang

 

Six pills

Spread out in line like a
formal salute, phrased carefully on
the glass dining table.
Prednisolone coated in
white powder
as
bitter as a serrated edge. Mycophenolate
always stuck to my tongue,
a thick bullet. Then,
Esomeprazole and Hydroxychloroquine
coated my
insides
with chalk. I swallowed Calcium,
Vitamin D, just to ensure
that my thinning bones
would not crumble
like wet
paper.
There is nothing greater than the
drama of the human body,
its desires, indulgences.

 

Fevers and rashes. There was so
much that sixth grade
science could not
account for.
Lupus
was not a model disease, not a
display easily shown on brown
and pink plastic organs.
I embraced the
liberties of
ignorance,
deciphering my disease through its nocturnal
whispers. Pushed by the wind’s
warm muscles, I probed
the orange membranes
of streetlamps.
I
traced the moon’s breath, lingering on
the black glass of the sky.
Six pills spread out in line.
Head tilted back, I was grateful
for the silence,
for the empty taste of air.

 

Copyright  © 2016 the individual poets.

More information, including readings and excerpts from winning and commended poets, can be found here.

 

Check out the poetry and prose pages in the current issue of Medical Humanities