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
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
Spread out in line like a
formal salute, phrased carefully on
the glass dining table.
Prednisolone coated in
bitter as a serrated edge. Mycophenolate
always stuck to my tongue,
a thick bullet. Then,
Esomeprazole and Hydroxychloroquine
with chalk. I swallowed Calcium,
Vitamin D, just to ensure
that my thinning bones
would not crumble
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
was not a model disease, not a
display easily shown on brown
and pink plastic organs.
I embraced the
deciphering my disease through its nocturnal
whispers. Pushed by the wind’s
warm muscles, I probed
the orange membranes
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