Cherishing life and health: the 2017 Hippocrates Awards for poetry and medicine

Poets from Ireland, the UK, the USA, Australia and Canada are among the winners of major awards in this year’s £6,000 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, just announced at an awards ceremony at Harvard in the USA this weekend.

The judges were Pulitzer winner Jorie Graham, paediatrician and ER producer Neal Baer, Scotland's Makar (National Poet), Jackie Kay, New York poet Maya Catherine Popa, and New York Poet and psychiatrist Owen Lewis.

Unusually, the international Hippocrates Prize attracts both health professionals and established poets from around the world - with a strong emphasis on highly accessible poetry that comes from direct personal experience. This year the themes ranged from setting up a field hospital in Iraq, to recovery from depression, illness in children, breast cancer, and in the Young Poet's category, to a description of how Alzheimer's affects a grandfather's face. 

“These poems show us everything we have in common,’” said Jackie Kay. "They help us with grief and grieving. But above all they make us cherish life, our health, our minutes and our hours. I’d keep these poems about me as my companions. They radiate light. One minute you’re reading a poem from a patient, the next a doctor, the next a nurse, the next a porter, the next a friend, the next a family member. One minute you’re reading a poem set in a standard hospital in the UK, the next a makeshift hospital in Iraq" 

Neal Baer, producer of ER observed: ”Here the ordinary becomes extraordinary. These poems relate with emotional depth and in fresh and compelling ways what it means to be healthy and sick.”

2017 NHS shortlist

The FPM Hippocrates Health Professional First Prize went to Kathy D’Arcy from Cork, Ireland for a poem exploring the human heartFirst runner-up was respiratory physician Andrew Dimitri from Sydney, Australia, who wrote about the challenges of setting up a field hospital near the Mosul front line. Andrew Dimitri also works a doctor for the international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières. Second runner-up was Iora Dawes, from Stafford, who has worked as a medical social worker. Iora wrote about the experience of parents awaiting the outcome of surgery on a child in hospital. 

The FPM Hippocrates Open First Prize went to poet Alisha Kaplan from Toronto in Canada for a poem about recovery from depression. Runners-up were Claire Collison from London, England for a poem set in a natural oasis hidden on Hampstead Heath and Rosie Jackson from Somerset in England for a poem about alleviating mental distress. 

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The winner of the Hippocrates £500 Young Poet Award was Erin O'Malley, Pennsylvania, USA writing about Alzheimer’s in her grandfather. The short-listed Hippocrates Young Poets were from the USA  Rachel Litchman, Michigan and Joyce Zhou, Illinois; from the UK Roberta Maia Sher, London and Izzy Wythe, Oundle; and from Singapore Vernon Yian.

2017 YP

Young Poets judge Maya Catherine Popa said: "It is wonderful that a prize with this kind of international visibility aims to encourage young writers from around the globe. As a teacher of this age group, I am often amazed at the creativity, insight, and skill of young writers. I wish more prizes aimed to showcase and support these voices."

The judges also agreed a record twenty-nine commendations in the Health Professional category, reflecting the high quality of entries, with a further sixteen poems commended in the Open category, from poets from around the world: from the UK, Ireland, the USA and Canada, to Australia, Singapore, the Philippines and Switzerland.

Jorie Graham commented: “That so much raw suffering, clear-sighted understanding of the vicissitudes of fate, and the perhaps lucky accidents of medical knowledge, or chance, or compassion, could find their way through formal intelligence to these pages is barely short of a miracle. It is certainly a testament to the power of the imagination to heal, console, elegize and cry out against the terrible demands of life and destiny. It is hard to forget these voices once one inhabits their particular circumstances, their messages of belief and profound trust in the consolations of beauty.” 

Owen Lewis too was impressed by the skill and compassion shown in the poems: “As a poet and a physician, reading through the entries as one of the judges for this year’s Hippocrates Prize was a real page-turner. This exciting and moving array of poems speaks to the experiences of illness and health, of patient and healer. The poems are written with both immediacy and reflection, with craft and heart-felt expression.”

“I am very pleased to be supporting this year’s Hippocrates Prize for poetry and medicine,” said patron of the awards Professor Anthony Fretwell-Downing. “These international awards are an excellent way to encourage people from around the world to take an interest in their health through poetry, as shown this year by entries from over 30 countries. The poems resonate with my sense of creativity.”

2017 Patron Anthony Fretwell-Downing

Professor Anthony Fretwell-Downing

The Hippocrates Prize and this year's awards symposium were supported by the medical charity the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine - publishers of the Postgraduate Medical Journal and Health Policy and Technology, the healthy heart charity the Cardiovascular Research Trust, philanthropist Professor Anthony Fretwell-Downing, the Hippocrates Initiative and the Arts and Humanities Initiative of Harvard Medical School.

With a prize fund of £6000 /~ USD 7500 for winning and commended poems, the Hippocrates Prize is one of the highest value poetry awards in the world for a single poem. In its 8 years, the Hippocrates Prize has attracted over 8000 entries from over 60 countries, from the Americas to Fiji and Finland to Australasia. 

See more about the shortlisted poets and what inspired them.

Notes for editors

For more on the shortlisted poets and the 2017 Hippocrates Awards,
contact +44 7494 450 805 or +1 617 432 5693
 or email

Hippocrates website

The Hippocrates Initiative for Poetry and Medicine – 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.

More on support for the 2017 Hippocrates Awards for Poetry and Medicine

The Hippocrates Open Awards and Health Professional Awards are supported by the Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine. The FPM is a UK medical society founded in 1918, which publishes the international journals the Postgraduate Medical Journal and Health Policy and Technology. 

The 2017 Hippocrates Young Poets Prize is supported by the Healthy Heart Charity the Cardiovascular Research Trust, founded in 1996, which promotes research and education for the prevention and treatment of disorders of the heart and circulation.

Anthony Fretwell-Downing is former Advisory Board Chair of the University of Sheffield’s Management School and is currently a member of the CBI SME Enterprise Forum. 

2017 Hippocrates Judges

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Neal Baer 

[photo by Gage Skidmore] is an American paediatrician, television writer and producer, best known for his work on the television shows ER and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Baer graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed his internship in Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Baer also holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.In 2000, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Colorado College.He received the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Scholarship from the American Medical Association as the most outstanding medical student who has contributed to promoting a better understanding of medicine in the media.

Baer has written extensively on adolescent health issues, covering such topics as teen pregnancy, AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, and nutrition.  Baer serves on the boards of many organizations related to health care, including the Venice Family Clinic, RAND Health, Children Now, the Huckleberry Fund of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Baer is a member of the Board of Associates at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. He is currently engaged in work to improve the visibility of social determinants of health in media.

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Jorie Graham is one of the most celebrated poets of the American post-war generation. She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Hybrids of Plants and Ghosts (1980), Erosion (1983), The End of Beauty (1987), Region of Unlikeness (1991), The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1992 (1995) winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Never (2002), Sea Change (2008), Place (2012), From the New World (2015), and Fast (2017), among others. Born in New York City, Graham was raised and educated in Italy and France. She attended the Sorbonne in Paris, where she studied philosophy, and New York University, where she pursued filmmaking. While in New York, she began writing and studying poetry, and went on to earn an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She later taught at the Writers’ Workshop, leaving to join the faculty at Harvard as the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a position previously held by Seamus Heaney and a chair whose occupants date back to John Quincy Adams. She was the first woman to be awarded this position.

Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay [photo by Mary McCartney] was named Scots Makar—the National Poet for Scotland—in March 2016. She is Chancellor of the University of Salford and Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University. Jackie Kay was born and brought up in Scotland. The Adoption Papers (Bloodaxe) won the Forward Prize, a Saltire prize and a Scottish Arts Council Prize. Fiere, her most recent collection of poems, was shortlisted for the COSTA award. Her novel Trumpet won the Guardian Fiction Award and was shortlisted for the IMPAC award. Red Dust Road (Picador) won the Scottish Book of the Year Award, and the London Book Award. It was shortlisted for the J R Ackerley Prize. She was awarded an MBE in 2006, and made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002. Her book of stories Wish I Was Here won the Decibel British Book Award. She also writes for children and her book Red Cherry Red (Bloomsbury) won the Clype Award. She has written extensively for stage and television. Her most recent plays Manchester Lines(produced by Manchester Library Theatre) and The New Maw Broon Monologues (produced by Glasgay) were a great success. Her most recent book is a collection of stories, Reality, Reality. She is currently working on her new novel, Bystander.

2017 owen-lewis

Owen Lewis, is the author of two collections of poetry, Marriage Map (Dos Madres Press, January, 2017) and Sometimes Full of Daylight (Dos Madres Press, 2011) and two chapbooks. Best Man (Dos Madres Press, 2015) is the recipient of the 2016 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize of the New England Poetry Club. Other prizes include the 2016 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, second prize in the 2017 Paumanok Award, as well as awards from The Mississippi Review, Connecticut River Review, the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society (UK), the London School of Jewish Studies, and a Pushcart nomination. He is a psychiatrist and professor at Columbia University where he teaches with the narrative medicine group, and an adjunct professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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Maya Catherine Popa is a writer and teacher in NYC. A 2015 Ruth Lilly finalist, she is the recipient of the Poetry Foundation Editor’s Prize for review. Her poetry appears in Tin House, Kenyon Review, Poetry London, and elsewhere. Her criticism and non-fiction appear widely, including in Poetry, Poets & Writers Magazine, PN Review, and The Huffington Post. Her chapbook, “The Bees Have Been Canceled,” is forthcoming from DIAGRAM New Michigan Press in the U.S., and Southword Editions in Ireland, in winter 2017.

Her awards include the Hippocrates Poetry Prize, 2nd place in the Magma Poetry Prize, 3rd Place in the Narrative N30B Prize, the Gregory O’Donoghue Competition, Parallel Universe Competition, and the Oxford Poetry Society Martin Starkie Prize. She holds an MFA from NYU and an Mst in Writing from Oxford University, where she was a Clarendon Scholar. She teaches at the Nightingale-Bamford school in New York City.

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