Science meets life and death in Venice

In Venice this weekend, a major international organisation was launched: the Hippocrates Society for Poetry and Medicine. This launch marks the 5th year of the hugely successful Hippocrates initiative, which has attracted interest from 55 countries in its major awards and symposia.

2013 gondoliers grand canal

Photo of gondoliers on the Grand Canal: @HealthMed

Donald Singer, Professor of Therapeutics and Hippocrates initiative co-founder, said: “Within the increasingly administered and technical world of medicine, patients often find it difficult to engage with prevention and treatment of common and serious medical problems.

“Poetry provides a huge opportunity for patients to gain insight into their illness, as well as to help health professionals to understand better the concerns of their patients. Applications are welcome from anywhere in the world to join the Hippocrates Society for Poetry and Medicine, from health professionals and patients, from poets and academics, and others who are interested in our aims”.

Poet and Hippocrates initiative co-founder Michael Hulse added: “From the cancer patient who found poetry restored her appetite to the Kiwi poet who woke up to see the sea as a vertical wall, we had everything in Venice.

“This interdisciplinary debate has attracted experts from around the world to help us to identify and resolve new challenges in establishing the place of poetry and medicine within health care and the wider world.”

This new society has 3 major aims: 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, and the place of medicine as a major theme in poetry.

Delegates from the UK, USA, New Zealand, and continental Western and Eastern Europe met in Venice to chart the future of the new society for poetry and medicine. Themes discussed included poetry as a route to empowering patients, tangible benefits such as helping to improve appetite during convalescence and palliative care, and important gains in well-being. 

Alex Josephy, poet and NHS Education Advisor, said: “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt that my life was out of control on a metaphorical as well as a physical level. I needed to confront this on both levels.  Poetry was for me part of a process by which I sought to adjust this disrupted relationship with words and images.”

Public health expert Damiano Abeni from Rome added: “Poetry is also an important tool to engender humanity among health professionals, from medical students to midwives and qualified health professionals.”

Hippocrates Award winner, distinguished poet CK Stead from New Zealand said: “It is of course important to recognise that there will be sceptical views from both doctors and patients about the idea of prescribing poetry, and from some poets that medicine is merely a niche area.”

2013 Venice pesaro-papafava m med-2 253

Venice venue for Hippocrates Society launch

A key aim of the Society is therefore to establish the strength of current evidence for the place of poetry in health care, and to commission new research into key areas where poetry may have a role – from easing experience of troublesome symptoms, to enhancing recovery from cancer and other serious diseases.

A further important aim is to demonstrate to poets the universal relevance of experience of life, from birth to death, as a major theme for the best of poetry.

Notes for Editors:

For further information, email 

Hippocrates initiative website:

Weblink: Entries are open for the 2014 Hippocrates Prize Open, NHS and Young Poets categories

Deadline 12 midnight GMT 31st January, 2014.

Click here to enter online

With a 1st prize for the winning poem in each category of £5,000, and £500 for the Young Poets award, the Hippocrates Prize is one of the highest value poetry awards in the world for a single poem.

The judging panel for the 2014 Hippocrates Prize includes poet Philip Gross, a winner of the TS Eliot Prize, and distinguished barrister Robert Francis QC.

Awards for the 2014 Prize will be announced by the judges in May, 2014 at the Wellcome Collection in London at the end of the 5th International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine. 

Awards are in three categories, each for an unpublished poem on a medical theme. The poem must be in English, with a maximum of 50 lines of text.

- an Open category, which anyone in the world may enter;

- an NHS category, which is open to UK National Health Service employees, health students and those working in professional organisations involved in education and training of NHS students and staff;

- a Young Poets category in the international Hippocrates Prize for Young Poets  for an unpublished poem in English on a medical theme. Entries are open to young poets, aged 14 to 18 years, from anywhere in the world.

Photo: Hippocrates Initiative - Below the Rialto 22nd September, 2013.

onion © Hippocrates initiative 2012: