2013 Commended poets and poems

Athar Atherton is a member of the Royal Society of Poetry and the Royal College of General Practitioners. He is an international published author of medical books as well as poems. His verses has been published in printed as well as electronic media. His skills set is vast. His greatest expertise revolves in the world of patient care, human condition and universe. He also like coffee.

Inspiration for the poem "Schizo": Athar wishes to combine his knowledge and expertise in patient care and the human condition to deliver the best creative experience. His clients are global citizens. They narrate stories to him. This poem is one such example. 

Yakov Azriel, an American born poet who presently lives in Israel, has published four full-length books of poetry in the USA since 2005; they were published by Time Being Books, a literary press based in St. Louis.  Over 200 of his poems have appeared in journals and magazines in the USA, the UK and Israel, and he has won seventeen awards or citations in international poetry competitions; his latest accomplishment was being shortlisted for the 2012 Bridport Prize. He has also received two fellowships for his poetry.

About the inspiration for his commended poem  "Cancer" he said: "a year ago my doctor suspected that I had cancer, and I had to undergo a series of tests to determine if this was indeed the case. I wrote the poem "Cancer" during this period.  Fortunately, the tests proved that I was not suffering from cancer in the end".

Tony Barnstone is The Albert Upton Professor of English at Whittier College and the author of thirteen books. His poetry books include Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki (John Ciardi Prize); The Golem of Los Angeles (Benjamin Saltman Award); Sad Jazz: Sonnets; and Impure. He is a distinguished translator of Chinese literature and editor of world literature textbooks.  Genuine Brandish’s CD of songs based on his poetry is Tokyo Burning: WWII Songs.  His bilingual selected poems Bestia en el Apartamento: Antología poética (1999-2012), his anthology Monstrous Verse, and his new book of poems, Buddha in Flames, appear in 2014. 

Genesis of the Poem: "Nietzsche in Torino" began as part of an ongoing project of updating Nietzsche's thought and words for the contemporary world.  The sequence draws elements from the well-known story of Nietzsche's mental breakdown in the city of Turin (Torino) upon seeing  a horse being beaten in the street, in which he was said to have thrown his arms around the beaten horse's neck and then to have collapsed to the street, babbling.  The episode recalled for me the famous dream sequence in Crime in Punishment, in which Raskolnikov similarly feels for a horse being mercilessly beaten in the road.  

I decided to dramatize Nietzsche's psychotic break as a manifestation in part of a spiritual illness at the core of the "man of will" and the "ubermensch" idea and of the difficulty of going beyond good and evil.  I see them as Miltonic Lucifer figures who rebel against Heaven, only to realize that it does no good to escape Hell if you yourself are Hell--"myself am hell."  As to specific inspirations: elements of the first sonnet are taken from short stories by Franz Kafka.  The second story references Robert Lowell's moment of bipolar sorrow in in "Skunk Hour," in which he states, "my mind's not right," and draws its imagery of fragmentation from the comic book character Superman's mad doppelgänger, Bizarro Superman. 

Roshni Beeharry is a Lecturer in Clinical Skills in London, and previously practiced as an NHS Consultant in Neurological Rehabilitation Medicine. She has an MA in Creative Writing & Personal Development, University of Sussex (2005). She is currently writing her dissertation exploring the educational potential of health professionals engaging in creative writing, as part of the MA in Clinical Education, Institute of Education.

In 2000, she won the Gold Cup in Poetry and had a second poem highly commended in the Enfield Music and Drama Festival (Enfield Arts Network). Several of her poems were published in a local writing group anthology in 2003 and in the Art in Essex funded anthology in 2004.  In 2009, she was long listed as one of the top forty entrants in the international short story competition, the Aeon Award.

Inspiration for "InvincibleI wrote the initial version of this poem whilst a registrar visiting the spinal orthotics workshop.  I was struck by the stark contrast of the hard jacket material decorated in soft pink butterflies, and feel that this could be a metaphor for the combination of ‘fighting spirit’  and vulnerability that  I have observed in many of the patients I have had the privilege of working with during my career. 

Chris Bridge was born in Hull in 1947. Since being expelled from his boarding school he has (so far) had two parallel careers as teacher and writer. In  the first he has been an English teacher for 40 years and a Headteacher for 17 of those years. He is now an educational consultant working mostly with schools in difficulties. He has always written poems, stories and plays. He once wrote a school musical and took it to the Edinburgh Fringe. His poetry has been published in several magazines including: Tribune, Scrip, Pennine Platform and Other Poetry.  He lives in Yorkshire.

Inspiration for the poem Health is the great leveller. I was recovering from a prostate operation in St James'  Hospital at the time. I had an epidural in and was probably awash with morphine when I became aware of this character on the ward who both annoyed and fascinated me. In a way it is a found poem. The words are exactly what he said, the incidents happened. In fact, Gordon went on to inspire a whole sequence of poems, of which this is the first. One of the great challenges for society and for the NHS is dealing with the Gordons of this world.

Denise Bundred: I trained as a paediatrician in Cape Town and as a paediatric cardiologist in Liverpool where I worked until my retirement in 2008. An MA in Writing at Liverpool John Moores University persuaded me to write poetry.

In 2010 my poem 'Old Photograph' was shortlisted for the Avalon Prize and published in Headland: Ariel Series.  ‘Foetal Scan’ won 3rd place in the Avalon Prize in 2011 and published by Up To A Point Press.  ‘Eighteen’ was commended and published in The Hippocrates Prize Anthology 2012.

In 2012 I was selected for a Poetry Masterclass at Ty Newydd with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke. I am reading at the Manchester Literature Festival in October 2013.

The poem ‘Lucky’ came from my experiences in Baragwaneth Hospital near Johannesburg. In the 1960’s I delivered babies as a medical student and worked there again in the 1980’s which was a turbulent time in Soweto. Driving to work I remembered babies I had delivered twenty years earlier and wondered about the young men they had become.

 Like the other poem ‘Synchrony’ it does not relate to any particular patient. I have climbed Skeleton Gorge many times along the path shaded by Outeniqua Yellowwoods. I remember their bark is dry and rough as an old man’s hand. During my training in cardiology, I inserted pacemakers saw the instant improvement as I switched the pacemaker on. This surge in the patient’s circulation never failed to excite me. I brought these two memories together in the poem.

Miles Burrows was born in Leicester and educated Charterhouse and Wadham College Oxford. Worked as book reviewer in New Statesman. Published The Vulture's Egg collection with Cape. Won prize from Constable for first chapter of a novel. Trained as doctor at UCH and has worked in New Guinea highlands, North Thailand,and  Taiwan. Work reprinted in British Poetry since 1945 (Ed Lucie-Smith: Penguin), and also in British Journal of Psychiatry.  Recent poems in Poetry Review, Ambit, Times Literary Supplement. Award winner in Bridport Competition. In 2013 longlisted for National Poetry Prize.

About the poem "The Missed Appointment": This was based on the experience of being woken by a slight noise at 4 am, half awake/half dreaming.

Abby Chew recently moved away from southeastern Ohio, where she worked as a teacher and goatherd at Olney Friends School.  Currently, she teaches English at The Webb Schools in Claremont, California, where she lives with her dog Alice.  Her first book of poems, Discontinued Township Roads, is forthcoming in late 2013 from Word Press, an imprint of WordTech, Inc.

Jane Clarkemanagement  consultant and psychotherapist, has had poems published in Mslexia, Envoi, The Irish Independent, The Stinging Fly, Cyphers, The Shop, Southword and accepted for upcoming editions of Poetry Wales, Ambit and Rialto. She is shortlisted for the 2013 Hennessy New Irish Writing Literary Awards and has also won Listowel Writers Week (2007), iYeats (2010), runner-up in the Fish Poetry Prize (2009 & 2012) and the Mslexia Poetry Competition (2012). She has two poems in Tokens for the Foundlings, an anthology of poems about childhood, published by Seren (2012). www.janeclarkepoetry.ie

“Hands” was inspired by visits to my father in hospital when he suffered heart failure at the age of 83. His brother had just died in a car accident so he was in a state of shock and extreme distress. The way he rolled and unrolled the sheet seemed to express his agitation and frustration at being confined. I wanted to convey the mixture of sadness, resignation and anger I saw in how he repeatedly lifted and dropped his hands, which bore the marks of his life as a farmer.  There was another old farmer in the ward who had dementia. He called and called for his sheepdog which mirrored my father calling to his brother, me calling to my father and whoever each of us calls. 

Kate CompstonBorn and brought up in Bude, Cornwall, I have now returned there. I love the sea and swimming, walking, beachcombing, finding/promoting stillness - and words. I belong (joyfully and gratefully) to Camelford’s Stanza poetry-writing group.  I began my professional life as a minister in the United Reformed Church. After marriage and having my daughter, I re-trained and practised as a psychodynamic counsellor, working in an agency and GP surgeries in Hampshire.  I have had articles, poems, meditations, etc. published in a number of different journals and anthologies, The Guardian, Celebrating Women, Human Rites, Seasons and Celebrations and many others.

How the poem ‘Two to the Soul’ came about All my professional life, I sat alongside those who were steering their way through loss. I also cared for my husband for seven years as he increasingly lost mobility, memory and sight.  Then I lost him – and others. How does a major loss affect our sense of identity? A radio programme about war veterans prompted my reading up on the effect of losing a limb: it was the word ‘phantom’ that fired my imagination. I was particularly fascinated by the account (which preceded medical recognition) of Ahab’s continuing to feel his absent limb in Moby Dick: the emotional energy that he devotes to his lost limb is equivalent to the energy one might continue to expend on a long-gone lover.  

Iora Dawes did a post-graduate training in Medical Social Work followed by posts in Salisbury Group Hospitals and King's Mill Hospital , Mansfield.  She later lectured in Health and Social Care at Stafford College and is now retired. 

In my poem 'Bed Blocker' I have tried to highlight the way systems can  dehumanise and stigmatise vulnerable people, very often at the end of their lives.

Suzanna Fitzpatrick combines freelance editing with writing, singing, and shepherding at a city farm.  She has been published in Brittle Star, The Frogmore Papers, Fuselit, The Interpreter’s HouseHQ Poetry MagazineMslexia, The North,Poetry NewsSouth, and South Bank Poetry.  She was commended in the 2012 Poetry London and the 2011 South Bank Poetry competitions and shortlisted for the 2011 Frogmore Poetry Prize, won second prize in the 2010 Buxton Festival Competition, was commended in the 2010 Aesthetica Competition, and shortlisted for the 2010 Bridport and Hamish Canham Prizes.  She lives in London with her husband and baby son.

A note on ‘Sample’: This poem is part of a sonnet sequence written about my family’s experience of my mother’s illness with progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  She was diagnosed when I was ten years old, and it has only been over the last few years that I have been able to write about it.  They are difficult poems, both to write and to read, but I hope that the constraint of the sonnet form counterbalances the strong emotions within.  This particular poem describes the regular blood samples that my mum has to give, and how difficult this is for her.  On a broader level, it also deals with role reversal, and the hopeless desire of a child to heal a sick parent.

Valerie Fry: As part of the duo, Wind and Words, Valerie takes clarinet and poetry recitals into care homes. Using a theme (eg. love, weather, travel, Christmas) to integrate the music and the words, it provides an opportunity for older people to hear classic poems from their school days as well as enjoy contemporary poetry.  Valerie's poetry has been displayed in hospital waiting rooms as part of the Poetry Posters project run by Leeds Hospitals Trust and her play A Game of Two Halves won BBC Radio Five Live’s playwriting competition in 2006. She has been commended in both Ware and South Bank poetry competitions. As a part-time carer for her ninety-one year old mother and as a regular visitor to care homes and hospitals, her poetry inevitably has a medical bias!  Valerie lives in London. More info is at www.windandwords.com

The poem "Minutes" was "inspired" by a tabby snoozing on a chair in the lounge of a care home. A gentleman told me that at the last residents' meeting, it had been decided that, as well as improving the service in the dining room, they would also get a cat!

Rosie Garland: Born in London to a runaway teenager, Rosie Garland has always been a cuckoo in the nest. With five solo collections of poetry, she is an eclectic writer and performer. She has won the DaDa Award for Performance Artist of the Year and a Poetry Award from the People’s Café, New York. Her debut novel ‘The Palace of Curiosities’ won the Mslexia Novel Competition and was published by HarperCollins in March 2013. http://www.rosiegarland.com/

Inspiration behind ‘Personal Questions: In 2009 I was diagnosed with cancer. As a performance poet and singer it seemed particularly ironic that it was throat cancer. In 2010 I was given the all-clear.

David Gilbert is a former mental health service user and has spent 25 years in the field of patient and public engagement. He is Co-Director of the Centre for Patient Leadership (www.cpl-uk.com) that provides support to patients wanting to change how healthcare is designed and delivered. His poems have appeared in The Rialto, Magma, Smiths Knoll, Brittle Star, Interpreter's House and This Line is Not for Turning (Anthology of Contemporary British Prose Poetry). His Pamphlet 'Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamus' is published by Templar. David lives in London with his wife Susan and two children, Samuel (13) and Adam (9). He supports Leeds Utd.

Inspiration for "Fine":To be honest I can't remember what inspired me to write the poem. But whilst writing it, I was vaguely aware that the mundane suburban events I was witnessing were only a thin veil over something extremely sinister. At the same time, I found it all pretty funny. I'm still not sure what it's really 'about'. The metaphors don't tie up neatly but I quite like its sense of ambiguity. 

Tom Heaton: I am currently working as a Foundation Year 2 doctor in Manchester. Originally from Lancashire, I studied Medicine at the University of Manchester and I am looking forward to continuing to work in the North West when I start my Core Anaesthesia training this August. Outside of medicine I enjoy playing a number of different sports, hill walking and playing guitar.

I was inspired to write "My Wife" during my recent later life psychiatry placement where I met many patients, and their families, who were struggling with dementia. It was particularly saddening to see the effect that the condition had on relationships that had lasted a lifetime.

Andy Jackson is from Manchester but lives in Fife, Scotland, where he is Medical Librarian at Ninewells Teaching Hospital in Dundee. His poems have appeared in Magma, Blackbox Manifold, Trespass and Gutter.He won the National Galleries of Scotland competition in 2008 and the inaugural Baker Prize in 2012. Debut collection The Assassination Museum was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2010 and he is editor of Split Screen : Poetry Inspired by Film & Television, also published by Red Squirrel in 2012, a sequel to which is due out in 2014 entitled Double Bill. He has co-edited Whaleback City : the poems of Dundee and its hinterland with WN Herbert, published by Dundee University Press in 2013.

The poem Cholecystectomy was inspired by the experience of having his gall bladder removed nearly twenty years ago, and subsequent reflections on parts of the body that appear to perform no useful function.

Kim Lasky grew up in Essex and now lives on the coast in Sussex. She worked for ten years in the NHS and now runs writing workshops in education and for community and healthcare groups. Her first short collection What it Means to Fall was published by Tall Lighthouse Press, and two further collections will appear this year, Eclipse from Templar and Petrol, Cyan, Electric, which was a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet competition. Find out more at www.kimlasky.com.

‘Animal Electricity’ is one of a series of poems I’ve written on electricity. Reading about Aldini’s experiment on the body of convicted criminal George Foster I was intrigued, not only by the uncanniness of the physical movement sparked by the current, but by the imaginative questions it raises about the nature of life and consciousness. It’s thought Aldini may have been part of Mary Shelley’s inspiration for Frankenstein, but medically those experiments went on to inform the development of various electrotherapies still used today, including cardiac stimulation in cases of heart attack.

Dr Shehzad Latif:  I work as a Surgeon in Swansea. Poetry like surgery and painting is a passion. Life, people and places inspire me. I love to write about my observations, how I see things. I love my work and am proud of my hospitals. I want people to see them through my eyes, feel what is it like to be on the other side. We all have our stories. 

"Singleton hospital at night" was conceived on a night shift as I walked along the corridor to the operating theatre. The nocturnal solitude, the sound of the waves were perfect elements for this poem.

Valerie Laws is a poet, crime and comedy novelist, playwright and sci-art installation specialist. Her latest collection All That Lives (Red Squirrel), arises from funded Residencies at a London Pathology Museum and at Newcastle University working with neuroscientists and pathologists. Her 11 books include poetry (3 full collections), crime fiction, comedy and drama. Many prizes and awards, including a Wellcome Trust Arts Award, twice prize winner in National Poetry competition, two Northern Writers Awards. 

Invents new forms of science-themed poetry installations and commissions including the infamous Quantum Sheep, an Arts Council-funded project spray-painting poetry onto live sheep. She featured in BBC2 TV's documentary Why Poetry Matters, & live at Royal Festival Hall with a quantum haiku on inflatable beach balls. Poetry AV installations feature in exhibitions in London, Berlin and Newcastle. Many other residencies, including in Egypt, & newly in a Physic Garden. She performs worldwide live and in the media.'

Inspiration for At a stroke: collateral circulation: I wrote the poem as part of my ongoing research residencies into the science of dying and the brain; I learned about strokes and how the brain defends itself from Prof Anthony Strong of KCL. My father bled out from a burst aneurysm so the effects on the brain cells are similar to those of a stroke although less localised. Learning about how the brain and body die also teaches a lot about how we live.

Nick Leach: After 40 years as an NHS GP, in inner London and then Market Harborough, Leicestershire, I’ve now become an aspiring novelist, poet and short story writer. The privilege of being allowed into patients’ homes and real lives gave me a compulsion to turn that experience into fiction available to the public. 

I am a member of South Leicestershire Stanza and currently president of Leicester Writers’ Club. My short story 'Train to Kings Cross' was long listed for last year's Fish short story prize. At present I am looking for a suitable agent for my recently completed first novel 'Storm Damage'.

Inspiration for 'Two Bound Copies of the Lancet 1886'. A thoughtful patient of mine, who worked as a dustman, noticed the two leather volumes put out with the bins and wondered if his GP might be interested in them. He brought them as a gift to his next consultation. I was thrilled, and when I opened a page at random and read of Koch’s Microbial Theory, the poem just had to be written.

Nick MacKinnon teaches maths and English at Winchester College. He worked as a psychogeriatric nurse in the 1980s at the Argyll and Bute District Hospital in the breezy ward described in The old lady's friend. In 2012  Claybury  won the NHS category of the Hippocrates Prize; La Peregrina was 2nd in the Bridport Prize and Terrier in rape won the Keats-Shelley Prize. His storywriting audiobook English, read by Juliet Stevenson and Stephen Campbell-Moore, appears in September 2013.  

The poem The old lady's friend was written to celebrate the ironies of my mother's life and death as a nurse. Fingers crossed that I die as well as Sister MacKinnon, but I hope by then we have got over the Shipman-induced reluctance to shorten the agony so that less courage is expected of me than was of her.

Shelley McAlister lives on the Isle of Wight and is a lecturer in health and social care. She has published short stories and poetry in a wide variety of commercial and literary magazines. Her first poetry collection is Sailing Under False Colours, published by Arrowhead Press in 2004. She was second prize winner in the Hippocrates Open category in 2012 and commended in 2010.

The poem Dysthymia and the Netherlandish proverbs was inspired by my work in mental health, my years living and travelling in Belgium and Holland, and Breugel's proverb paintings.  

Allison McVety’s collection, The Night Trotsky Came to Stay (Smith/Doorstop, 2007), was shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection Prize.  Her poems have appeared in Poetry LondonPoetry Review, The Guardian and The Times and have been broadcast on BBC radio. In 2012 she won the National Poetry Competition. Her third collection, Lighthouses, will be published in 2014.

Inspiration for the poem Pandemic: As a former systems engineer, I was struck by James Niven’s investigative report on the pandemic (as experienced in my hometown of Manchester) and his simple yet elegant methods for reducing the risk of infection. Less famous than Florence Nightingale; every bit as marvellous.

Caits Meissner: Winner of the OneWorld Poetry Contest, Caits Meissner attended the 2008 Pan-African Literary Forum in Ghana, studying under Yusef Komunyakaa. Caits has been published in journals and books including The Feminist Wire, The Literary Review and Saul Williams’ CHORUS. Her poetry/music album, the wolf & me, was released in 2010 to online acclaim. 

The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You, Caits’ book with poet Tishon, arrived 2012 on the Well&Often imprint, where she also serves as education editor. Caits has performed at Joe’s Pub, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Highline Ballroom, NYU, Columbia University, The Kitchen and the Blue Note Jazz Cafe. www.caitsmeissner.com

Inspiration for the poem Ways to Fight for Life in HarlemAn old student I coached in poetry approached me for support when her illness was getting worse. She is plagued, at twenty one years old, with Ovarian Cancer. Our healing process was sharing regular writing space at her kitchen table, and out of our laughter and tears and explorations came this poem. 

I am always amazed at her resilience and her large spirit, her wise cracks and deep wisdom couched in the language of the Harlem streets, where there seems to be danger and death lingering on many corners in many forms. This poem is about the preciousness and un-preciousness of life in our communities- it's about survival.

Jenny Molberg, a Texas native, earned her BA at Louisiana State University and her MFA at American University. During her time in Washington, D.C., she worked as an assistant editor at Poet Lore and was a Lannan Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Mississippi Review, Copper Nickel, Comstock Review, Louisville Review, The New Guard and Third Coast

She is currently working on her first book-length collection of poems. Her poem "Narrative" was recently chosen as the 2013 winner of the Third Coast Poetry Contest, judged by the poet Jane Hirshfield. She is a Teaching Fellow and PhD student in poetry at the University of North Texas.

A note on Marvels of the Invisible: My father is a pathologist, and I have always been fascinated by the way he looks at the world, with a sense of wonder for the scientific. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had a double mastectomy. I was stricken by my father's perhaps unusual, but touching and illuminating empathy during and after the surgery, and this poem was my way of marveling at both the physical, scientific world and what is unsaid or unseen when people express empathy during trying times. 

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet, translator and novelist and has worked as an actress, therapist and writing facilitator.  She was born in Chicago and has lived in the UK since 1970. She taught on the Creative Writing and Personal Development MA at Sussex University from 1996-2010 and co-founded LAPIDUS, the organization for writing and well-being. 

She works regularly as a writer in the community in a variety of social and health care settings. Her work is in many literary magazines and anthologies. Publications include a novel, Wyoming Trail (Granta, 1998), poetry for children, Can it Be About Me? (Frances Lincoln, 2012) and her debut poetry collection, The Girl is Smiling (Circle Time Press, 2012). 

Brief note on the writing of ‘Anaesthesia’s Apology’: As a child I remember my father, a pathologist, discouraging the overuse of anaesthetic. I grew up believing that being able to endure a high level of pain was a good thing and prided myself on being able to sit in the dentist chair without an injection, also giving birth to all three of my children with nothing more than a glass of whisky to get me through. 

However I am also in awe of the anaesthetist and the role they play in enabling medical miracles. In this poem I have imagined Anaesthesia as a god, sister perhaps to those mythical twin brothers, Thanatos and Hypnos.

Elisabeth Murawski is the author of Zorba’s Daughter, winner of the 2010 May Swenson Poetry Award, Moon and Mercury, and two chapbooks Troubled by an Angel and Out-patients. Hawthornden fellow, 2008. Publications include: The Yale Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, FIELD, The Southern Review, The Literary Review, et al. Her poem “Emma Hardy Speaks from the Grave” won the 2011 Graybeal-Gowen Award. A native of Chicago, she currently lives in Alexandria, VA.

Inspiration for "Gaithersburg Bus Stop Accident” : My son Alexander Evans, the subject of the poem, is in a rehab facility in the Boston area that specializes in traumatic brain injuries. As of today, the prognosis is unknown, though he has made considerable progress since being transferred to rehab last July. The poem is my heartfelt reaction to the accident which occurred on January 16, 2012. 

Peter Nash MD: A semi-retired family physician, Peter Nash has been practicing medicine for forty years. He writes most mornings, occasionally helps his wife in the garden, boards two old mares, and wanders along the river with his dog Quigley. He has been published in several anthologies and numerous publications.  His chapbook “Tracks” was the winner of HOTMETALPRESS Chapbook Prize, 2007.  A group of his poems took first prize in the City Works national poetry contest in 2008.   His book “Coyote Bush: Poems from the Lost Coast” was the national winner of the Off the Grid poetry contest, 2012

Tinnitus: different strands to make a coat of many colors During hot summer nights, my wife insists on turning on the fan saying that it cools her and allows her to remain asleep.  One night I was watching her with the “wind blowing her hair as if she were in the pasture and her forehead glowing like a half moon in the night light.” A few years ago I was afflicted with a slight case of tinnitus and became fascinated with the idea of a sound that is not there.  And from there, I made the leap that after death “there is still a sound.” And finally, through the experience of my own friends and patients I have seen the extraordinary medical technology we use to prolong lives, to fight cancer.

Will Nicoll grew up in the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh, studying Creative Writing with American Literature at the University of East Anglia. He has been working on his first novel, Homecoming – a story about love, death, gardening and addiction – but is also in the process of developing a narrative non-fiction book about alcoholism. Written as interlinking essays, the piece uses intimate portraits of the men and women enmeshed in the problem, to describe a contemporary phenomenon, compounded by institutional failure.‘What’s Waiting at Elm Tree Loan’, Will’s essay about Wernicke Korsakoff’s Syndrome, was short-listed for The Spectator’s Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize. As a journalist, he has written for various publications – recently VICE. Follow Will on Twitter: @williampnicoll More on Will at willnicoll.com

Note on Leo Sternbach’s Ghost: As 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Valium’s marketing in the UK, I have written a number of features on the benzodiazepines. Valium’s implications today are awful – and its reputation as a symbol of mass-medication is well-earned – but the inspiration for Leo Sternbach’s Ghost came from the sense that narratives about negligence and greed, have overlapped to mask a more complex human story.

Now, medications to treat mental-illness are abundant – but my grandmother, a pharmacist, remembers how Diazepam, at least fleetingly, seemed to be a wonder drug, which delivered the most seriously affected from Chloral Hydrate. It astonished me to realise that my grandfather, a doctor, who witnessed the liberation of a Japanese prisoner of war camp, would have done so with few medications at his disposal – which served to remind me of the power of pharmacology to alleviate pain. 

Leo Sternbach’s discovery of the benzodiazepines was motivated by the human instinct to care – but their story reveals the darkest side of human nature, too. As a form, the sestina is inchoate, repetitive and difficult to conclude, which makes it a useful medium for describing addiction, trapping subject, reader and writer. 

Lesley Saunders is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Cloud Camera, a book of poems about the dream lives of scientific instruments and techniques (Two Rivers Press 2012).  She has performed her work at literary festivals and on the radio, and has worked on collaborative projects with artists, sculptors, musicians, photographers and dancers.  

Lesley has held several residencies including, in 2013, at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.  Otherwise, she works as an independent researcher in education and is a visiting professor at the Institute of Education, London. www.lesleysaunders.org.uk

Inspiration for ‘The Last Glass Eye Maker: As my vision deteriorates a little more every year with various age-related eye problems, I realise how much I’ve been used to taking my sight for granted.  And so I was fascinated by a programme on BBC Radio 4 in February 2012, called The Unseeing Eye, about prosthetic eye technology – most artificial eyes are made from painted acrylic these days, but there is (or was then) just one elderly ocularist still blowing glass eyes from coloured molten glass.

Joanna Sedgwick has an English Literature degree from the Open University and has recently completed an MA in Interpreting: British Sign Language – English from the University of Leeds. She is now a qualified British Sign Language interpreter and lives and works in West Yorkshire. Joanna Sedgwick has had poems published in magazines and is now working on her first collection. She regularly attends Antony Dunn’s workshops in Leeds and is also a member of her local poetry group Otley Poets.

Inspiration for ‘The Cure’: My daughter was born fourteen weeks early; the experience of caring for my premature baby is at the heart of this poem. When she was diagnosed as having a profound hearing loss my own and my family’s lives took a different direction in that we became a bi-lingual home, using both English and Sign Language.   

Audrey Shafer, MD is Professor of Anesthesiology, Stanford University School of Medicine/VA; staff anesthesiologist, Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System; Director, Arts, Humanities and Medicine Program, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics http://bioethics.stanford.edu/arts/ and a founding member of Pegasus Physician Writers. She is the author of Sleep Talker: Poems By a Doctor/Mother (Xlibris, 2001), The Mailbox (Random House, 2006), as well as poetry and scholarly work on anesthesia and health humanities.

Inspiration for writing the poem: The Off-Duty Anaesthetist” had two sources of inspiration: a poem and a class. For years I have been inspired by Dannie Abse’s poem, A Pathology of Colours – how true that being a physician informs all aspects of one’s life, whether it’s the colors one sees or the simple act of riding on a bus. 

The second source is my joy in teaching creative writing for medical students at Stanford. This poem was my contribution to the collective assignment, “We Sing the Body Electric” (from Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass), in which each person wrote about a body part or the body as a whole.

Dr Ellen Storm qualified from St George’s Hospital Medical School in London in 2000 and is currently a trainee in paediatrics and child health in the Mersey region. She has been writing poetry for nine years and in that time has attended two courses with Arvon and five with the Poetry School, as well as various workshops and readings. She has had one poem published in The Interpreter’s House (48), two in Assent (65/1) and one in The Reader (49). She lives with her partner and two-year-old twin daughters, and blogs at www.ellenstorm.com

On "Artificial Rupture of Membranes"I often find that my poems emerge from the confluence of two or more distinct lines of thought or feeling, particularly where this creates a tension between opposing forces. In Artificial Rupture of Membranes, the internal conflict arises from the mother’s emotional desire for a natural birth, juxtaposed against the imperative of hospital staff to intervene early in order to achieve a quick and safe delivery. There is also a power differential here – the relative powerlessness of the woman in labour – and a questioning of the decisions being made on her behalf.

I have attended the arrival of many newborn babies in my professional capacity as a paediatrician, but this is a rather personal piece about the run-up to the birth, by caesarean section, of the first of my twin daughters. It describes the exact moment of turning, from a woman-centered to a highly medicalised process, and the loss, grief and doubt that accompanied that decision. It expresses the regret and failure often felt by women who are unable to have a normal delivery and, for myself, writing it was part of the healing process.”

Val Thompson: I work as a dyslexia tutor supporting students in a university environment. In the Ph D which I recently gained, I used arts based approaches to representation and presentation. This included using poetry both as an analytic and a disseminating tool. I am a member of a thriving local poetry group, and involved in performance poetry in a lively coffee shop environment. 

Counting the Stars: My inspiration for the poem was an interest in how our bodies react to anxiety, and the power of the brain/mind to calm or to exaggerate the physical symptoms caused by stress.

Pat Winslow worked for twelve years as an actor before leaving the theatre in 1987 to take up writing. Kissing Bones, her seventh collection of poetry, has just been published by Templar Poetry. Previous collections include Unpredictable Geometry and Dreaming of Walls Repeating Themselves. Occasional forays into fiction include Iota and Comma Press’s Parenthesis as well as three Bridport competition anthologies. Pat is currently working as a writer in residence in a prison. She is also a celebrant for the British Humanist Association.  More at www.patwinslow.com and Pat Winslow's blog

Inspiration for 'Skin': I had a severe bout of eczema at the end of 2012. It lasted a good four months. I hope I never have it again, even if I did get a poem out of 

 © Hippocrates initiative 2012: hippocrates.poetry@gmail.com