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Poetry as medical humanity: poems from the inaugural 2010 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine
  1. Michael Hulse1,
  2. Donald R J Singer2
  1. 1Warwick Writing Programme, English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick, UK
  2. 2Clinical Sciences Research Institute, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Donald RJ Singer, Clinical Sciences Research Institute, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Clifford Bridge Road, Coventry CV2 2DX; d.r.singer{at}

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We are creatures of language, and it's through language that we confront our afflictions of body and mind. It was to serve this understanding that the International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine was established1 2 by Professor Donald Singer of Warwick University's Medical School and poet Michael Hulse of the Warwick Writing Programme. The inaugural Hippocrates Prize was awarded both in an ‘open’ category—which anyone anywhere was eligible to enter—and an ‘NHS’ category open to National Health Service related employees and health students (see details of the awards).i In its twin categories of award, it reflects the fact that professional writers are drawn to medical subjects, while those who work in health services are no less likely to want to put their thoughts and feelings on paper.

For the ancient world, writing on scientific subjects in verse was the most natural thing in the world. The understanding that prose was the proper medium for scientific expression had yet to become established. Some of the subjects on which Lucretius wrote in his De rerum naturae, an enquiry into natural phenomena, we would now call medical. The Roman author clearly saw nothing unusual in describing the symptoms of plague in poetic form.

No one would pretend that that ancient ease in combining the two disciplines survives unbroken. Nonetheless, a tradition of writing in verse on medical matters can be traced down the centuries, in many parts of the world. And, in our own time, there …

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  • Linked article 105205.

  • Funding Wellcome Trust.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i The awards: The award fund for the 2010 Hippocrates Prize was £15000. In both the Open International and NHS related categories, the first prize for each winning poem was £5000, with second and third prizes of £1000 and £500 and 20 £50 commendations.

  • ii Brief notes on the 2010 Hippocrates Prize winners.

    • A. NHS related awards

      1. Wendy French facilitates creative writing in healthcare and community settings. Her projects have resulted in three books by young people with mental illness. Wendy has two collections of poetry, the latest, Surely You Know This, published in 2009 by Tall-lighthouse press.

      2. Alex Josephy is an education adviser working with NHS doctors in South East England. Her poems have been published in a number of magazines including Rialto and Smiths Knoll.

      3. Edward Picot manages a small General Practice. His interactive literature for computer media has been published by The Hyperliterature Exchange and Furtherfield.

    • B. Open International Awards

      1. CK Stead is a distinguished writer from New Zealand with a substantial international reputation as poet, novelist and critic.

      2. Sian Hughes' first book of poems, The Missing, appeared last year from Salt Publishing.

      3. Pauline Stainer is the author of nine collections of poetry from Bloodaxe Books, most recently Crossing the Snowline (2008).

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