2020 Hippocrates Young Poets Prize: Biographies of Shortlisted Poets

Rachel Brooks

RACHEL BROOKS is a high school junior at Christian Heritage School in Trumbull, Connecticut. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and she is the winner of the 2019-2020 Smith College High School Poetry Prize. She serves as a Managing and Genre Editor at Polyphony Lit and is the founder of her high school literary magazine. She is fascinated by the connection between medicine and the humanities. 

She said: "Endoscopy results in room #1 is an autobiographical poem that explores the frustrations of unresolved illness and the burden of being undiagnosed. I wanted to capture the raw, complex emotions that have accompanied my seven year struggle with unexplained abdominal pain. By merging religious imagery with medical terminology, this poem traces the speaker’s disillusionment and multifaceted feelings. With a digestive tract ravaged by pain, she succumbs to starvation and takes refuge in her shrinking body as a means of thwarting a chronic condition. By exploring the personal side of disease and the slow decay of the human physique, this poem seeks to use sound and tempo and image to create a world through which the reader is able to forge interpretations that resonate beyond the page. Illness alters our perceptions; at odds with our own bodies, we crave a definitive answer. We seek comfort and control in the midst of malady, even if it means carving out of our bodies, minds, and selves, transforming them into holes and hollows while trying to rediscover our identities." 

R Sabrina Guo

SABRINA GUO is a freshman at Syosset High School from New York. She is the recipient of five National Gold Medals in Poetry, Critical Essay, and Journalism from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, as well as Scholastic’s Civic Expressions Award. Her work has also been recognized by the Academy of American Poets, Interlochen Arts Academy's Virginia B. Ball Creative Writing Competition, Penn State University, Stone Soup, 1455, and more. Her recent work is featured in the Best Teen Writing of 2019, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers blog, Canvas Literary Journal, and Stone Soup, among others.

She said: "Pink Milk explores my childhood viewpoint on growth and the calcium deficiency that I experienced as a child. I still remember how my parents would pour large glasses of pink milk for me to begrudgingly drink, and how the nutritional supplements I had to take tasted like dried fish and mulberries. I recalled visiting a Japanese-style water garden in Shenyang, China while struggling with this deficiency; I was seven then, and I remember visiting the koi each day. I aspired to write a poem that reflected on my memories of watching them grow as I myself hoped to follow suit.  

R Cynthia Liu

CYNTHIA LU is a high school senior from Belmont, Massachusetts. Her writing has been recognized by Bennington College, NCTE, Bow Seat, the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and YoungArts. She was a part of the 2019 Adroit Summer Mentorship Program, and her poems have been published in Rust and Moth and Sine Theta Magazine. In her free time, she enjoys painting and succulent gardening.

She said: "I intended bright-bodied to highlight specific moments of innocence and beauty, rendering the poem a point of sanctuary in the midst of such a debilitating experience. Its fragmented lens, formed from personal memory as well as imagination, softens the harsh, unnatural edges of illness—austere white hospital rooms and dark foreign substances—into childhood recollections of mortality in purer, simpler forms. I have learned that when caught in the devastation of that word “terminal,” where pain derives so directly from knowledge, closure requires a careful balancing act with denial for the sake of psychological self-preservation.”

R  Sarah Mitchisom

SARAH ELIANA NACHIMSON is a student at YULA Girls High School in Los Angeles, CA. She is a genre editor for polyphony lit and a former junior editor for Siblíní Journal. Her poetry has been recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing, Foyle Young Poets, the National Student Poets Program, and the Norman E. Alexander Award. He work is published or forthcoming in Parallax, Polyphony Lit, and Up North Lit.

Inspiration for poem: When I wrote this poem, I thought about the spiral that body dysmorphia sends girls on. It’s about so many things: expectations from friends, how one wants to be seen, and how one wants to see themselves. I tried to encompass all that, and end off with a harrowing punch.  

r   Katherine Vandermel

KATHERINE VANDERMEL is a high school student in New Jersey. She thinks of writing as painting: each word imbues the world with coloration. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alexandria Quarterly, National Poet Quarterly, and Rising Phoenix Review among others, and has been recognized by Behrend College and the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She loves music and a good, warm croissant.

About the Inspiration of her poems she said: "All the Places We’ve Been is a testament to the ability of language to serve as an anti-erasure tool: to recollect and reclaim the pieces of personal identity that slip away as memory disintegrates. It explores the emotional intersections of my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease, giving light to the memories of her relatives, her experiences, and most importantly, herself. However, what this poem seeks to identify by the end is the reflective nature of illness—how memory serves a role so integral to humanity that its erasure not only results in the loss of identity for the individual, but also for his or her loved ones. In this way, writing fights the erasure for a collective, struggling to capture experiences far beyond language."

She added: "Blur speaks to the potency of mental illness and the emotional burden of loss. Noting seemingly inconsequential aspects of life that are forgotten, before acknowledging the erasure of more significant pieces of self-identity, this poem draws a parallel between reflections and the state of mind. Both suggest a certain immutability of memory’s deterioration: sometimes, one can only witness loss, while continuing to carry on through space and time. Through this exploration of helplessness and grief, however, this poem also seeks to kindle a particular sense of hope in appreciating the past—breathing new life into nostalgia—while attempting to embrace the nature of age."

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