Teacher wins a major award in the Hippocrates Prize for a poem on experience of cancer treatment

Teacher Catherine Ayres has been awarded the £500 third prize in the Open International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and MedicineThe Award was announced on Friday May 22nd at an Awards Ceremony in London.  

Catherine Ayres photo

Catherine Ayres is a teacher who lives in Northumberland.  Her poems have appeared in print and online magazines, including Ink, Sweat and Tears and The Moth

About her winning poem Making love to LINAC she said: "I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. This poem is about my experience of radiotherapy. It was written in response to a prompt set by Jo Bell in her online poetry group '52'. Writing about the treatments I underwent has helped me to accept what happened and move forward into life after major illness.”

Poets from New York and the UK were competing for this year’s Hippocrates Open Prize for Poetry and Medicine. 

The £5000 First Prize in the Open Category was awarded to teacher and writer Maya Catherine Popa from New York City for a poem inspired by her neuroscientist great grandfather. 

2015 Hippo winners

     Maya Catherine Popa      Kate Compston   Parisa Thepmankorn

About her poem A Technique for Operating on the Past, Maya said: "There is something pleasantly elliptical about the fact that a neuroscientist relies on the very instrument that is the subject of his study. I had long wanted to write a poem about Gr.T. Popa, my great-grandfather, after whom the Medical University in Iași, Romania, is named. 

He worked on neuro-morphology in the 1930s and 40s, but his remarkable research was ultimately cut short in light of his anti-fascist, and anti-communist affiliations. That he was forced into hiding and died of a routine ailment while escaping the communists still seems a dark irony. In a way, writing this poem felt like a letter to him, an acknowledgement of that unfairness.” 

Poet Pascale Petit from France and now living in London was awarded the £1000 Second Prize for In the Giraffe House.

The Hippocrates £5000 NHS first prize went to former counsellor Kate Compston from Cornwall for a poem about revealing the diagnosis of dementia. 

She said: "the poem Lovely young consultant charms my husband was prompted by the visit, 13 years ago, of the very attractive and talented psycho-geriatrician, who came to our home to give us the news of my husband Malcolm’s diagnosis. Brain scans had indicated beyond reasonable doubt that he had Dementia with Lewy Bodies. What stayed with me for years afterwards was the tension I could see being played out within her, between professional scientific excitement about something unusual, and her humanity:

The Second Prize of £1000 went to former GP Ann Lilian Jay from West Wales for Night Visit, with the £500 Third Prize shared between tutor Carole Bromley from York for On Hearing for the First Time and radiologist Rowena Warwick from Buckinghamshire for Mrs Noone.

Parisa Thepmankorn from Rockaway, New Jersey received the £500 2015 Hippocrates Young Poet Prize for Intraocular Pressure.

She said: "I wrote the poem Intraocular Pressure after a visit to the optometrist revealed that my eyes' intraocular pressures were on the higher side of "normal". Inspired by the idea of certain diseases as time bombs, my poem is the result of both my personal fears and my attempt to extrapolate the future implications and physical effects of the condition if it worsened.”

The other shortlisted young poets were Daniella Cugini from Warwick in England for the surgeon dissects his lover and US poets Alex Greenberg from New York City for Dusting and Alexandra Spensley from Ohio for Geography of a Bone. 

Judge Simon Rae said "Judging the entries for the Young Poets Award has been both exciting and moving.  The standard has been high, with both winners and commended poets producing strong, unflinching poems which will remain long in the memory.”

Now in its 6th year, the short-listed entries for the 2015 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine were selected from around 1000 entries from 31 countries by judges poet Rebecca Goss, poet Simon Rae, psychiatrist Professor Femi Oyebode and doctor and writer Theodore Dalrymple.

The judges also agreed 13 commendations in the NHS category and 18 commendations in the Open category, to poets from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the USA and New Zealand.

The Hippocrates Initiative – winner of the 2011 Times Higher Education Award for Innovation and Excellence in the Arts – is an interdisciplinary venture that investigates the synergy between medicine, the arts, and health.
At £5000 first prize both in the NHS category and the Open category, and £500 for the Young Poets Prize, this is one of the highest value poetry awards in the world for a single poem.

Judge Rebecca Goss said: “The subject of medicine is sprawling and complex, but poetry is the perfect medium to explore it closely and aid our understanding of human experience at its most raw. A variety of voices make up the winning and commended entries in this year’s Hippocrates Prize.

Experiences of both medic and patient are explored, but so too, are the insights of the bystander. Included in this list are the carers, the relatives, the friends, revealing the impact illness also has on their lives.”

Judge Theodore Dalrymple remarked: “Once again, the Hippocrates Prize has stimulated poets and health workers around the word to put their experiences of hope, despair, sadness, and compassion into poetic form, with impressive success.”

Judge Professor Femi Oyebode said “I feel very privileged to be involved in the Hippocrates poetry prize. This experience has been most humbling.”

He added: “The wondrous thing is to imagine that these are poems written by healthcare workers who, in their everyday work, deploy their technical expertise with emotional commitment and compassion, all over the world, in a variety of settings in order to care for people; and yet, in-between times, having observed the most extraordinary human situations of trauma, tragedy, hope, despair, death and suffering, find the words to communicate these with sensitivity, with original and unique images, and sometimes with humor.” 

Notes to editors

Photos of all finalists, along with biographies and extracts of their poems are available on request. Contact 07447 441666 or hippocrates.poetry@gmail.com

Awards: In each category there are: 1st prize £5,000, 2nd prize £1,000, 3rd prize of £500, and further commendations each of £50.

The 2015 Hippocrates Anthology of winning and commended poems will be launched at an Awards Ceremony in London on Friday 22nd May. 



The Hippocrates Prize judges


Rebecca Goss grew up in Suffolk. She returned to live in the county in 2013, after living in Liverpool for twenty years. Her first collection The Anatomy of Structures was published by Flambard Press in 2010. Her second collection, Her Birth (Carcanet/Northern House), was shortlisted for The 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection and winner of the Poetry Category in The 2013 East Anglian Book Awards. In 2014 she was selected for The Poetry Book Society's Next Generation Poets.

Femi Oyebode is Professor of Psychiatry University of Birmingham & Consultant  Psychiatrist National Centre for Mental Health Birmingham. His research interests include clinical psychopathology and medical humanities. His publications include Sims’ Symptoms in the Mind: textbook of descriptive psychopathology 5th edition (translated into Italian, Portuguese and Estonian); Mindreadings: literature and psychiatry; & Madness at the Theatre.

He is a poet and his published works include Naked to your softness and other dreams; Forest of transformations; Master of the leopard hunt; Indigo, camwood and mahogany red; & Femi Oyebode: Selected poems (edited O. Okome). For a critical review of his poetry see Home and exile in Femi Oyebode’s poetry (edited Obododimma Oha).

Theodore Dalrymple is the pen name for Dr Anthony Daniels, who has worked as a doctor in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Gilbert Islands, London and Birmingham, most recently as a psychiatrist and prison doctor. His writing has appeared regularly in the press and in medical publications, including the British Medical Journal, the Times, Telegraph, Observer and the Spectator and he has published around 20 books, most recently Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality (2015).

Hippocrates Prize Organisers

Professor Donald Singer is President of the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine. His interests include research on discovery of new therapies, and public understanding of drugs, health and disease. He co-authors Pocket Prescriber, the 8th edition of which is published by Taylor & Francis in the summer of 2015.

Professor Michael Hulse is a poet and translator of German literature, and teaches creative writing and comparative literature at the University of Warwick. He is also editor of The Warwick Review. His latest book of poems, Half-Life (2013), was named a Book of the Year by John Kinsella.


The 2015 Hippocrates Prize is supported by:

The Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine, a national medical society founded in 1918 and publisher of the Postgraduate Medical Journal and Health Policy and Technology, has supported the Hippocrates Prize since its launch in 2009.



The Cardiovascular Research Trust, a charity founded in 1996, which promotes research and education for the prevention and treatment of disorders of the heart and circulation.

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