2017 Young Poets: Winning and shortlisted poems and biographies


Maya Catherine Popa

Order the 2017 Hippocrates Anthology of 60 winning and commended poems


Erin O'Malley, York, Pennsylvania, USA  Alzheimer's Disease, A Proof By Exhaustion


Rachel Litchman, Interlochen, Michigan, USA  Selected Autobiography: Children's Memorial Hospital

Roberta Maia Sher, London, UK  Melanoma

Izzy Wythe, Oundle, UK  Calpol in Adolescence

Vernon Yian, Singapore  How light falls on the palliative bed

Joyce Zhou, Naperville, Illinois, USA  Cancer as Self-Prescribed Stars


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Rachel Litchman is a high school senior at Interlochen Arts Academy. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Luminarts Cultural Foundation and The Glimmer Train Press Short Story Award for New Writers. Other work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Colorado Review, The Journal, The Mud Season Review, New South, and others. She is currently a poetry reader for the Adroit Journal.

She said: “Selected Autobiograpy: Children’s Memorial Hospital” was inspired by my time spent in several children’s hospitals during my eighth grade school year, one of them being the former Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.This was a time of my life where there were little to no answers surrounding the question of my own life, body, and health. In the hospital, I spent a lot of time instead focusing on the solvable—the homework questions in my math textbook and the eventual answers I could always get by working these problems hard enough. The references to math in this poem are my attempt to bring in the more logical, rational language into the landscape of illness—any illness—that defies logic.”

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Erin Jin Mei O'Malley is currently studying in Germany as a Speedwell Scholar. She has previously served as a Genre Editor for Polyphony H.S. and is the Co-Founder of Sooth Swarm Journal. Erin has attended workshops run by the University of Virginia and the Kenyon Review. Her work been recognized by Hollins University, Columbia College Chicago, the National YoungArts Foundation, the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and others. She occasionally blogs at www.explorationsoferin.com.

She said: “Alzheimer's Disease, A Proof By Exhaustion explores the way illness can destroy things that exist outside the body. At first, my grandfather's symptoms of forgetfulness didn't seem to have the immediacy of other bodily ailments; we often don't think of memory as an important aspect of our identity, But when my grandfather lost the ability to recognize certain people in my family, it created a kind of distance between who he used to be and who is now, and I wanted to write something to that distance.”

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Roberta Maia Sher said: "I attend Highgate School in North London and am currently studying for my A-levels (Maths, Biology, Chemistry and English) next year. I'm interested in exploring the crossover between science and the arts - two knowledge areas that are becoming increasingly distant, but inevitably will always be dependent on each other. This explains my inclination to write poetry about disease, surgery and lab-work, despite these being not universally considered 'poetic' fields. Last summer I was one of the 15 winners of the Foyle Young Poets Award.”  

She said: “Melanoma  this was something I wrote at the three-year anniversary of the death of my grandfather, who unfortunately (and not to his knowledge) had this deadly form of skin cancer for a long period of time. It attempts to detach the disease from the person affected, and explore the idea that this abstract, disregarding the pain and fate of the person, can be beautiful and worthy of writing about. It is not often that we think about the growth of a tumour in the same way as how we think about the growth of a flower, or a child. Indeed, many will disagree with the idea of romanticizing something as devastating as cancer, but to do so would be disregarding the fact that other severities - suicide, heartbreak, isolation, depression - have been, and still are, romanticized."

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Izzy Wythe currently attends Oundle School in Northamptonshire, studying History, English, Latin and Greek. This is her first competition success, but she writes often, for purposes of procrastination, catharsis and, in this case, homework. The works of T.S Eliot, Allen Ginsberg and Michael Ondaatje are particularly important to her.

She said: “Calpol in Adolescence was inspired by the Proustian idea of memory, that sense of involuntary recollection completely out-of- the blue. At the same time, I was listening to the Arctic Monkeys whilst writing it and I think something of the psychotic fairground vibe of their lyrics may have made its way into the poem. In many ways, though, I wrote it as a technical exercise, trying to create one of those rug-pull moments where an image flips and nothing is as it seems. That was my starting point, and Calpol is such a bizarrely ubiquitous childhood memory that I thought it would work with that subversive perception-shift.”

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Vernon Yian graduated from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Singapore in 2016 and is presently awaiting enlistment into the Singapore military before entering university. In school, he actively contributes to creative writing anthologies, whilst serving as Editor-in- Chief of Fiat Lux, a journal on epistemology, and as Vice-President of !NK, the student newspaper, and Managing Editor of YeartoYear, his school’s unofficial online publication.

About How light falls on the palliative bed, he said: “I fear having more to fondly recollect than to hopefully expect—a psychological condition I imagine of terminal illness. This poem is an articulation of these deeply-kept anxieties, having stayed with my mother and my siblings in their hospital wards during periods of illness, which to my childhood hyper-imagination had intimated death. Yet, by engaging the mystic and sensorial quality of light as a metaphor for the persistence of life, the poem expresses a hope to transcend our physical trappings, of which death is a fragment of our larger experience of living.

Joyce Zhou

Joyce Zhou attends Neuqua Valley High School in Illinois. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Princeton University, National Poetry Quarterly, the Adroit Journal, among others. 

She said: "Cancer as Self-Prescribed Stars" explores the turbulent emotions of reclaiming self-identity in the struggle with illness. This poem sought to redefine seemingly mundane details in order to encompass the devastation of what it means to be terminally ill. Especially regarding cancer, I wanted to explore how the body can distort into its own enemy and how even unconscious habits can carry significant meanings. Thus, by revealing the humanity behind disease, this poem can be uniquely and universally interpreted by each reader.” 

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