Kathy D'Arcy and Alisha Kaplan win Hippocrates prizes for poetry and medicine

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Kathy D’Arcy, pictured, from Cork, and Alisha Kaplan, from Toronto, are the 2017 winners of the Hippocrates health professional and open prizes for poetry and medicine, it was announced at Harvard Medical School in Boston at the weekend.  

D’Arcy has worked as a doctor and youth worker as well as teaching creative writing, and is currently involved in the Irish Pro-Choice campaign. Of her winning poem ‘Inside’ she said: “This poem is part of a sustained exploration of the human heart which followed my medical internship. I loved looking at cardiac imaging, watching bright air bubbles fizzing inside ventricles during bubble echoes, discovering that the chordae tendineae  (the ‘heartstrings’) looked like harp strings that you could play. I wondered if I could only truly connect with others by opening their ribcages and reaching inside to hold their hearts. I wondered what it would feel like to live inside someone’s heart. This organ – not the romantic cypher, but the self-governing, muscular bag of blood that da Vinci says ‘does not stop unless forever’ – is a source of endless fascination for me.”

embedded image from entry 66909 Alisha Kaplan, pictured left, won the Hippocrates open category with her poem ‘Coming Off Eight Years of Escitalopram’. She said: “It was only after going off nearly a decade of antidepressant medication that I realised the extent of its side-effects. Most significantly, it had unmoored me from my sense of self. I wrote this poem after an epiphanic moment in which both my libido and my identity returned, and I suddenly remembered who I was. I wept, overcome with relief and deep sadness at these years of my life that had been so far from full.”

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

The judges for the 2017 Hippocrates awards included Pulitzer winner Jorie Graham, leading poet and novelist Jackie Kay, who was recently appointed Scotland’s makar (national poet), and the paediatrician and Emmy award-winning producer of ER, Neal Baer.

Jackie Kay said: “These poems show us everything we have in common. 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 Syria.”

Neal Baer said: “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.”

The other judges were Owen Lewis and Maya Catherine Popa. You can find the winning poems and the full list of winners and commended poets on the Hippocrates website here



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