2013 Open short-listed poets and poems

Short-listed Open entries in alphabetical order by surname

Tooth - Matthew Barton, Bristol, Avon, England

Morbidity and mortality rounds - Rafael Campo, Brookline MA, USA

At the Children's Hospital - Liam Corley, Riverside CA, USA

Wild - Sue Wootton, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

Matthew Barton has published two collections, Learning to Row (Peterloo 1999) and Vessel (Brodie Poets, 2009). Awards include 2nd prize in the National Poetry Competition, BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year (twice winner), an Arts Council Writer’s Award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. He has given readings and workshops in a prison and primary and secondary schools, and for many years taught the poetry unit for Bristol University’s Diploma in Creative Writing. Most recently he appeared in the Bristol Poetry Festival 2012. He lives in Bristol with his family.

Inspiration for ‘Tooth’:  Unable to easily afford a root canal treatment and crown, I decided to have a decayed molar tooth pulled out. I had never had this done before and was anxious about it. It was both better and worse than I was expecting: better, because the actual pain was not great; but worse, because of the surprising emotional impact it had on me, something close to grief. It called up all sorts of surprising feelings of loss than I hadn’t bargained for. 

I found myself asking the dentist to let me have this extracted part of myself, so he wrapped it up in a rather bloody piece of gauze and I took it home, where (after being cleaned up) it sat on the mantelpiece. When I took it in my palm and scrutinised it, I found that it was not so much I, as it, that felt bereft. And this started the musings that led to the poem. A pulled tooth is hardly to be moaned about, in the scale of things; but it surprised me by rooting itself, for some reason, in deeper layers of the psyche.

Rafael Campo, M.A., M.D., D. Litt.(Hon.), is a poet and essayist who teaches and practices general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.  He is also on the faculty of Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA Program.  He is the recipient of many honors and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Poetry Series award, and a Lambda Literary Award for his poetry.  His most recent book, The Enemy (Duke University Press, 2007), won the Sheila Motton Book Award from the New England Poetry Club, one of America’s oldest poetry organizations. 

In 2009, he received the Nicholas E. Davies Memorial Scholar Award from the American College of Physicians for outstanding humanism in medicine.  Other poems of his have appeared recently in The Progressive, Slate.com, Threepenny Review, Yale Review, and elsewhere.  His new book of poems, Alternative Medicine, will be published later this year, also by Duke University Press.

'Morbidity and mortality rounds' was conceived some years ago, after I visited a patient of mine in the hospital who was dying of hepatocellular carcinoma and awaiting transfer to a hospice facility.  To my astonishment, he asked my forgiveness for not responding to the treatment, and for causing me so much trouble.  I have long been haunted by the irony of his words, as I had felt so acutely throughout the course of his illness the limitations of the biomedical model and my own personal helplessness, and thus held myself responsible for his death, but didn't know how I could express my own wish to be forgiven.  

When I learned his case would be presented at our Morbidity and Mortality Rounds,  I wanted to attend the conference to tell the story of his heart-wrenching apology in the face of my own sense of failure, but I feared my colleagues wouldn't welcome discussion of such an emotionally-charged issue.  My head spun with all my conflicting feelings, which finally took shape in the poem's repetitions, and also became reflected in the poem's title; though in the end I didn't attend the M&M conference, I felt that through the poem I was able to address what for me were the most important lessons he taught me, especially the power of empathy to combat the distancing we almost reflexively adopt toward our patients, and the necessity of confronting our own shortcomings.

Liam Corley is an Associate Professor of English at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he teaches American literature. A recent veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Dr. Corley has published essays on poetry and war in College English, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and War, Literature, & the Arts. His poetry has appeared in ChautauquaBadlandsA Few Lines MagazinePomona Valley Review, and the anthology, Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors. He has just completed his first book-length collection of poems, Scout’s Honor.

The central image of “At the Children’s Hospital” occurred to me during a visit to a doctor’s office when I happened to glance at a happy collection of pictures from former patients. How might parents and children with difficult prognoses view this display of smiling survivors? Conversations with my cousin and brother-in-law, both radiologists, furthered my reflections. The emotional core of the poem derives from my experiences as a bereaved father and a veteran, and I poured into this captured scene the grief and respect I have for the courage and suffering of children. 

I set the poem in Anaheim because of the tremendous dislocation I experienced when meeting my family at Disneyland during a Rest & Recuperation leave from Afghanistan and also because the sun as it westers from their Children’s Hospital sets behind “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Sue Wootton is a New Zealand poet and writer, whose publications include three collections of poetry (Hourglass, Magnetic South and By Birdlight), a children’s book called Cloudcatcher, and, most recently, the short story collection ‘The Happiest Music on Earth’ (Rosa Mira Books 2013 rosamirabooks.com). A former physiotherapist, Sue has a long-standing interest in the intersection of science and the humanities generally, and poetry and medicine in particular. She’s currently enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing through Massey University (NZ), and writing a novel with medical themes. Further information about Sue is available at suewootton.com   

What inspired me to write ‘Wild’? A friend was in the throes of tests and treatment for cancer. Technically, her care was excellent. Her body and its biochemistry were expertly mapped and monitored; treatment was successfully planned and carried out. And yet, and yet… this endless focus on the analysis of our component parts, and in turn of their components, and of the parts of their parts – all this can diminish a person.  All this can make a person disappear.  ‘Wild’ is the disappearing voice asserting itself: uncontrollable, complex, inter-related and essential.


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