5 years for the Hippocrates Initiative for Poetry and Medicine

Nicki WIlliams' latest blog on the HIppocrates Initiative:

nicki williams-photo-for-hippocrates med-2

As Saturday 10th May, the date of the International Symposium for Poetry and Medicine, draws closer, we are looking forward to celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Hippocrates Initiative with contributors and delegates from across the globe at the Royal Society of Medicine.

To see the full schedule for the Symposium, please click here. If you would like to Register for the 5th International Symposium, please click here and pay here. We’ll be open for registration and coffee from 8.30 am in the Max Rayne Auditorium at the RSM, with lectures all morning, lunchtime poetry readings by Clare Best, Rebecca Goss and Lesley Saunders, and further afternoon sessions. 

The awards ceremony on the 10th May begins at 16.00, starting with readings by Hippocrates judges Philip Gross and Kit Wright, and there will be a drinks reception at 17.00. Best of luck to all our shortlisted poets and we look forward to seeing you there.

It has been a fantastic year for the Hippocrates Initiative. Following the International Symposium last year, I joined the Hippocrates team just in time to help organise a workshop in Venice where we were joined by speakers, poets, medics and other health professionals from Italy, the UK, the Czech Republic, the USA and New Zealand. It was my first Hippocrates event, and I was stunned by the range of topics discussed, including: signing and deaf poetry; the identity of the poet once the ability to read and write is impaired; the use of poetry in the training of midwives; the language of medicine; poetry arising from life under threat; poetry and aphasia; practical criticism sessions and much more.

There, in a walled Venetian garden and in October sunshine, we also launched the Hippocrates Society, a major international forum with three aims for developing interdisciplinary debate:
- establishing the place of poetry within core treatment for acute illnesses and for long term medical conditions
- the role of poetry as solace and release for health professionals and for the family and friends of people with serious medical disorders
- the place of medicine as a major theme in poetry.

The International Symposium this year will feature speakers from the UK, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Australia and the US. Morning sessions will discuss the theme of medicine in poetry, while the afternoon will look more at poetry in a medical context. Lectures include: poetry and illness as “narratives of last resort”; surgical metaphor in the poetry of Sylvia Plath; anorexia nervosa as a site of resistance in recent poetry from Ireland; traces of TB in the poetry of Norman Nicholson;acts of naming disabilities in contemporary poetry; mental health challenges in the medical profession; what poetry has to say about forgetfulness and ageing; and ‘Wordpharmacy,’ using the Danish poet Morten Søndergaard’s poetry to discuss how language can be described as medicine.

The Symposium will also include the eagerly awaited results and Awards Ceremony for the Hippocrates Prize 2014. The prize features an NHS category, for poets currently or formerly employed by the NHS, an Open International prize, and a new international prize for young poets, all awards for an unpublished poem on a medical theme.

At £5000 first prize in both Open and NHS categories, and £500 for the Young Poet Prize, this is one of the highest value poetry awards in the world for a single poem. 

The shortlisted entries have been selected from over 1000 entries and 31 countries by T.S. Eliot Prize winner Philip Gross, barrister Robert Francis QC, and Mumsnet editor Sarah Crown. Short-listed poets in the Open Category are poet Jane Draycott, publisher and poet Ailsa Holland, both from England, poet and novelist Stephanie Gangi from New York City, and Karel Nel, a former pastor and scientist from South Africa. Competing for the NHS category are dentist Paula Cunningham from Belfast, Valerie Laws, who has worked as a poet with pathologists and neuroscientists, and Ellen Storm, a trainee in paediatrics and child health.

The judges also agreed 20 commendations in the NHS category, and 21 in the Open International category, from England, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, the USA, New Zealand and Australia.

Judge Philip Gross said: ‘Reading the stronger poems in the Open and the NHS categories, I see how many of their qualities they share. Dedicated poet or health professional – maybe each needs the same disciplines of observation and exactness, care and a right handling of emotions, the ability to get up close and yet step back and see it whole.’

Judge Sarah Crown commented: ‘We think of healthcare first and foremost as a scientific arena; a realm of dosages, diagnoses, instruments and odds. The real pleasure of these poems for me was the way in which they made the case for the place, within this arena, of the personal and the beautiful, too. Reading them awakened me to the stories behind the science, and I found myself in tears on more than one occasion. Congratulations to everyone who submitted a poem, and particularly to the winners.’

Judge Robert Francis QC remarked "What a celebration of the partnership between patients and those who care for them and their shared will to overcome the frailties which we all have to face!" 

The results of the new International Hippocrates Prize for Young Poets will also be announced at the Symposium. The prize is for an unpublished poem in English on a medical theme by poets aged 14 to 18 years. The 2014 Prize attracted entries from England, Ireland, Scotland, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, South Africa and the USA. It is one of the most valuable poetry awards in the world for young poets. This year’s competition was judged by adult and children’s author, and winner of the Geoffrey Faber memorial prize, Kit Wright. Shortlisted for the prize are UK poets Joseph Davison-Duddles, Molly Garbutt, and Conor McKee, and US poet, Talin Tahajian from Belmont, Massachusetts. 

Kit said of the entered poems: ‘It was a remarkable experience to judge these poems, highly various in their approaches, both stylistically and in their choice of subject. The world of medicine is an extraordinarily rich one for the writer, and these young poets have produced some extraordinarily assured and compelling responses to it.’

As well as the awards ceremony and the presentations, there will be readings from poet judges Kit Wright and Philip Gross. Our lunchtime readers this year are Rebecca Goss, Lesley Saunders and Clare Best. Rebecca Goss’ poems have appeared in many literary journals including Stand, Ambit, Magma, Mslexia and The Reader. She has enjoyed success in competitions, including The Bridport Prize, The Troubadour International Poetry Competition, Torriano Poetry and Mirehouse/Ways with Words. She was awarded an Authors’ Foundation Grant in 2011, from the Society of Authors.  Her second collection titled Her Birth, published by Carcanet/Northern House, was shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection.

Lesley Saunders has published five collections, most recently Cloud Camera with Two Rivers Press in May 2012. Her poems have been published in the London Review of Books, Mslexia, the Rialto, Staple, Writing Women, Spare Rib, The Warwick Review and The Poetry Business anthology. Her poem ‘The Uses of Greek’ was shortlisted for the Best Single Poem in the Forward Prize 1999, and she has won joint first prize in the inaugural Manchester Poetry Prize. Her work has been featured on websites such as Kettle Yard, Cambridge, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and performed at The Voicebox and the South Bank Centre, London.

Clare Best has published three collections of poetry and has been published in a wide range of literary magazines including Poetry News, The Rialto, Magma, The London Magazine, Smiths KnollResurgence and in anthologies such as Buzz (Templar ‘08) and The Sandhopper Lover (Cinnamon Press ‘09). Her poems have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC Radio Lincolnshire

For the full schedule for the 10th May Symposium, click here

To Register for the 5th International Symposium, please click here and pay here

Registration at the RSM opens at 8.30 am.

The awards ceremony will begins at 16.00.

 Drinks reception from 17.00.





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