Category Archives: Poetry

Hilborn, Neil. OCD

Recorded at the Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam in 2013.

If you want to listen to Neil Hilborn talk more about the genesis of the poem, his own experience of OCD and what he feels he has learned through the experience of the ‘viral’ success of this YouTube recording you could listen to this TED talk >click here<.

Morrison L, Gillies J, Newell A, Fraser L. Tools of the Trade. Poems for New Doctors

toolsoftrade tools3d

‘New doctors will be empowered by poems in the pockets of their metaphorical white coats.’

Such is the aim of the RCGP (Scotland) and the Scottish Poetry Library in producing this pocket-sized anthology of poetry given free to all graduating medical students in Scotland this year as a memorial tribute to Dr Pat Manson. In their foreword, the editors express their hope that this little book will be ‘a friend to provide comfort and support’ to newly-qualified doctors who are urged to ‘use the poems as tools to connect with your patients, your colleagues, yourself’. I hope they will; there is certainly much here to challenge as well as comfort.

Publisher: Scottish Poetry Library
Year: 2014
ISBN-10: 0956219160



Thanks to the fantastic Scottish Poetry Library it is possible to link to many (if not quite all) the poems in this collection…

Lines for a Bookmark
by Gael Turnbull
Psalm Eighty-Eight Blues
by Diana Hendry
by Czesław Miłosz
At Eighty
by Edwin Morgan
The Flyting o’ Life and Daith
by Hamish Henderson
The Bird that was Trapped has Flown
by James Robertson
Ward 64
by Sarah Broom
Human Chain
by Seamus Heaney
Beannacht / Blessing
by John O’Donohue
from ‘Playing God’
by Glenn Colquhoun
These are the Hands (for the 60th anniversary of the NHS )
by Michael Rosen
To My Surgeon
by Valerie Gillies
Second Opinion
by Douglas Dunn
from Finis Exoptatus
by Adam Lindsay Gordon
From the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
by Andrew Greig
Going without Saying
by Bernard O’Donoghue
by Jenny Joseph
by Selima Hill
by Arthur Cochrane
The Old Lady
by Iain Crichton Smith
The Bonnie Broukit Bairn
by Hugh MacDiarmid
Adam, There are Animals
by Chloe Morrish
Teddy (for a child with leukaemia)
by Glenn Colquhoun
Twenty-eight Weeks
by Lesley Glaister
by Fleur Adcock
An Suaimhneas Bruaillein
by Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir
A brief format to be used when consulting with patients
by Glenn Colquhoun
Night Sister
by Elizabeth Jennings
Recovery Room
by Patricia Beer
From Doing Calls on the Old Portpatrick Road
by Iain Bamforth
From A Year and a Day: 19 October 1979 – 19 October 1980
by Gael Turnbull
by Sarah Broom
The Guest House
by Jeladuddin Rumi
The Door
by Miroslav Holub
A Medical Education (for Dr Peter Rothwell)
by Glenn Colquhoun
A Tight-Rope Act
by Gael Turnbull
Tools of the Trade
by Martin MacIntyre
Increasingly sophisticated methods of divination used in the practice of medicine
by Glenn Colquhoun

Farya (Write to Life member). Lampedusa


Write to Life is the creative writing group of Freedom from Torture. In the twelve years of our existence, we’ve grown from a small group of clients writing for each other, to a thriving family of twenty or so, who read all over the country, write for online and print publications, and star in both live theatre and film.

The linked poem was published on their website in 2014: “In light of the shipwrecks in the Mediterranean recently we highlight a commemorative poem by Write to Life member Faryad”

Link > Lampedusa <

Darling, Julie, Fuller Cynthia (eds). The Poetry Cure


This book of poems is for all of us who go through illness, deal with doctors, hospitals, and experiences such as bereavement and ageing, and who struggle to find language to describe the suffering we have to go through. Medical language baffles and alienates us. It’s a harsh, unforgiving vocabulary that often seems to bear no relationship to our own emotional predicament. In this uplifting anthology we see how poetry can give us metaphors and images to help us understand our feelings and communicate them to people around us. This is a book that should be in every waiting-room, and should be by the bed of every GP and consultant. It may inspire you to write poetry, and also help you to find order in the chaos of ill health. By giving us words, poetry can help cure us.

Publisher: Bloodaxe Books
Year: 2005
ISBN-10: 1852246901

Colquhoun, Glenn. Playing God: poems about medicine

god god3d

This collection of poems by doctor and acclaimed poet, Glenn Colquhoun, is based on his experiences in medical practice, where doctors are often described – or accused of – ‘playing God’ but where outward confidence hides a constant battle with uncertainty.

Publisher: Hammersmith Press Limited
Year: 2007
ISBN-10: 1905140169



Mc Carthy Woolf, Karen. An aviary of small birds

aviary  aviary3d

An Aviary of Small Birds is both elegy to a stillborn son and testament to the redemptive qualities of poetry as a transformative art. The book opens at the birth, which paradoxically becomes the moment of death when, after a long labor and an emergency caesarean, the baby’s heart gives out. For the mother, her body flooded with endorphins, euphoria gives way to shock, followed by an intense and visceral grief. However, just as grief itself is not linear, so too the book follows an emotional rather than a strictly chronological arc, lyric rather than narrative. At the same time, Karen McCarthy Woolf’s debut work is a formal experimentation that allows an intellectual and metaphysical line of enquiry to emerge. Ultimately, it is a closely felt connection with the natural world, particularly with water and birds, which allows the author to transcend the experience while honoring the spirit of her son.

Publisher: OxfordPoets
Year: 2014
ISBN-10: 1906188149

Cavafy, CP. Collected poems

cavafy cavafy

The Greek poet C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933) lived most of his life in Alexandria, where he was content to circulate his work only among a select group of readers; but since his death he has come to be recognised and widely enjoyed as one of the great poets of the twentieth century in any language celebrated for his elegant formal structures, for his brilliant reanimation of myth and for his subtle treatment of erotic experience.

Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Year: 1990
ISBN-10: 0701136626


Greenlaw, L (ed). Signs and Humours: The Poetry of Medicine.

The anthology brings together 100 poems written over the last 2,000 years to show how one of the most basic human concerns – the body – has continued to fascinate and agitate poets. Whether it’s Horace complaining about garlic playing havoc with his digestive system, Grey Gowrie recovering from a heart transplant or Jo Shapcott demonstrating – a lack of – latent inhibition, the anthology explores the questions that arise when we are forced to stop and consider our physical selves….The 22 specially commissioned poems include deliberations on the pathologies of our time, from autism and infertility to pancreatitis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but often take the subject matter in unexpected directions.

Title: Signs and Humours: The Poetry of Medicine
Editor: Greenlaw, Lavina
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Year: 2007
ISBN: 1903080096

Goldsworthy, Peter. This Goes With That

An Australian writer and medical practitioner. Peter Goldsworthy has won awards for his short stories, poetry, novels, and opera libretti.
The Poetry Archive describes his poetry as follows:
“There’s a pressing sense of mortality in his work and a desire to ask the big questions, even as he satirises them. Drawn to the discipline of science, Goldsworthy’s poems are full of the language of the laboratory —matter, evidence, elements, chemicals— the stuff we are made of, but at the same time frustrated by these limitations into asking what else we might be. He’s interested in ‘The Dark Side of the Head’, the things we can only know in flashes, like glimpsing a skink, but he also retains a rationalist’s scepticism of the ecstatic – that “thoughtlessly exquisite” evening sky in ‘Sunset’ won’t fool him into rapture”.

Publisher: Leviathan
Year: 2001
ISBN-10: 1903563119


Bartlett, Elizabeth. Strange Territory

Steven Oliver HYMS: Elizabeth Bartlett spent time working both as a receptionist in General Practice and in the home-care services, she died in 2008 in her mid 80’s. I’ve only just discovered her poetry – and I would recommend both this collection and also her earlier book ‘A Lifetime of Dying’.

Publisher: Peterloo Poets
Year: 1983
ISBN-10: 0905291492

Gunn, T. The Man with Night Sweats

Thom Gunn’s The Man With Night Sweats shows him writing at the height of his powers… The book ends with a set of poems about the deaths of friends from AIDS. With their unflinching directness, compassion and grace, they are among the most moving statements yet to have been provoked by the disease.

Author: Gunn,Thom
Title: The Man with Night Sweats
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year: 1992
ISBN: 0571162576

Reading, Peter. C

“The whole book is an extremely grim sequence of pieces concerned with terminal disease and death”

Written in a hundred 100-word ‘units’ as…

Verse is for healthy
The dying

and surgeons use prose.

Publisher: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd
Year: 1984
ISBN-10: 0436409844

Reid, C. A Scattering

Lucinda Gane, Christopher Reid’s wife, died in October 2005. A Scattering is his tribute to her and consists of four poetic sequences, the first written during her illness, and the other three at intervals after her death.

Publisher: Arete Ltd
Year: 2009
ISBN: 0955455367

Murray, Les. New Collected Poems

Australia’s ‘leading poet’ – Les Murray has a very distinctive voice and now a huge body of work (apparently over 30 volumes). Inevitably in such a huge output there are plenty of points of contact with medicine and health. Murray has written about his longstanding battles with depression in ‘Killing the Black Dog‘ and his collection ‘Conscious and Verbal‘ takes its title from the way his recovery from a 3 week hepatic coma was initially reported.

Publisher: Carcanet Press Ltd
Year: 2003
ISBN: 1857546237

Lewis, Gwyneth. A Hospital Odyssey

“A Hospital Odyssey” is an outrageously imaginative voyage through illness and healing. Drawing on the most recent biomedical research into stem cells and cancer, the poem is a journey through the body’s inner space and the strange habitats created by disease, including the chimeras people see when they’re unwell. Maris, whose husband, Hardy, has been diagnosed with cancer, is separated from him. Her mythical journey leads though a surreal landscape, peopled by true and false physicians, god-celebrities, rabid statues, diseases hunting healthy bodies and a microbes holding their annual ball.

Publisher: Bloodaxe Books Ltd
Year: 2010
ISBN-10: 1852248777

The poem has been dramatised for radio, there is a blog posting from the writer about the background to the poem and the play >here<

You can listen to the recording on a HYMS networked computer via this link


Plath Sylvia. Crossing the Water

Steven Oliver HYMS: Sylvia Plath’s poetry often contains imagery of the body and contacts with health care and ill-health.
This small collection came out after ‘Ariel‘, perhaps her most famous book, both posthumously.  Poems in this collection which might be of particular interest to medics could include: ‘Face Lift‘, ‘In  Plaster‘ and ‘The Surgeon at 2 A.M.’

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year : 1976
ISBN-10: 057110861X


Borthwick, Pat. Swim

A substantial new collection from this powerful North Yorkshire writer. Includes many prize-winning poems, which delve into astronomy, childhood terrors, the fabulous, the amatory, the fishy, the hospital, disappearing communities. Pat Borthwick gets at the truth, brings out its light and dark in every detail.

Steven Oliver HYMS: This collection contains a short sequence of 9 poems grouped as ‘Hospital Corners‘ that give an account of an admission to hospital. Given that she is a local writer I can’t help wondering which hospital it was … watch out you might end up in a poem! I’ve attached one of the sequence in the comments.

Publisher: Mudfog
Year: 2005
ISBN-10: 1899503633

Larkin, P. Collected poems

Larkin’s poems have been collected before. But some poems were omitted, and the remainder were not presented in the order Larkin preferred, something that surely would have annoyed the notoriously prickly poet. Here, then, is Larkin’s incisive verse as the premier British poet wanted it to  be read.

Author: Larkin, Philip
Title: Collected poems
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year: 2003
ISBN: 0571216544

Heaney, S. The Rattle Bag

The Rattle Bag is an anthology of poetry (mostly in English but occasionally in translation) for general readers and students of all ages and backgrounds. These poems have been selected by the simple yet telling criteria that they are the personal favorites of the editors, themselves two of contemporary literature’s leading poets.

Editors: Heaney, Seamus, Hughes, Ted.

Title: The Rattle Bag
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year: 1982
ISBN: 057111976X

Hill, Selima. Lou-Lou

Selima Hill has twice re-entered the underworld of mental breakdown through her poetry. Her earlier Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness presented the strange diaries of a young girl before, during and after her treatment at a psychiatric hospital. In her recent collection, Bunny, she opened another door on madness, revisiting the haunted house of an adolescence cut short by breakdown. Now, in Lou-Lou, she goes back in time to meet her earlier self, sharing her pain, bewilderment and outrage as she retraces her steps through the institutional labyrinth.

Publisher: Bloodaxe Books Ltd
Year: 2004
ISBN-10: 1852246715

Kay, Jackie. The Adoption Papers

Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Jackie Kay tells the story of a black girl’s adoption by a white Scottish couple from three different viewpoints: the mother,the birth mother and the daughter. This unique and honest volume of poems has been adapted for radio. Also included in the book are new poems reflecting issues of sexuality, Scottishness and being working-class.

Publisher: Bloodaxe Books Ltd;
Year: 2000
ISBN-10: 185224156X


Fanthorpe, UA. Side Effects

UA (Ursula Askham) Fanthorpe described herself as a ‘middle-aged drop out’ leaving her job teaching at Cheltenham Ladies College – and at one stage was a hospital clerk in Bristol (given her references to patients with brain injury, I’ve always assumed it was Frenchay Hospital). This is her first collection of poems, it’s now out of print – but you’ll find a number of these poems in other collections and selections. She has a very clear and deceptively simple style, with lots of humour in there. A number of the poems in this book reflect her experience of watching healthcare and medicine from the both engaged and distanced viewpoint of a member of ‘clerical’ staff – I have added one below in the comments.

There is another one of her poems in the comments section on this page.

Publisher: Peterloo Poets;
Year: 1978
ISBN: 090529114X

Darling, Julia. Sudden Collapses in Public Places

“Anyone who has ever spent any time in a hospital or in a hospital waiting room will love these poems, anyone who has ever been to the doctor or felt ill or had to fill in a form will love these poems. That covers everyone. Here are poems about a difficult, scary subject, cancer, that circle around it lightly, on light dancing feet, and every so often whack you on the head. Oddly enough, Sudden Collapses is compulsively readable. The poems are funny, irreverent, moving and never sentimental. You can recognise yourself in them, recognise your family. They are warm, full of compassion: Julia Darling’s imagination is a shining bright light.” Jackie Kay

Title: Sudden Collapses in Public Places
Author: Darling, Julia
Publisher: Arc Publications
Year: 2003
ISBN: 1900072912

Beli, A. Blood & bone: poems by physicians

Blood and Bone: Poems by Physicians explores the profound connections between medicine and poetry through the eyes of contemporary physician-poets. These one hundred poems record instances of pain and recovery, joy and grief, humor and irony within the restricted society of care-givers and their patients.

Author: Belli, A & Coulehan J (editors)
Title: Blood & bone : poems by physicians
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Year: 1998
ISBN: 0877456380

Campo, R. The poetry of healing: a doctors education in empathy, identity and desire

The author reveals his spiritual and psychological development as a doctor, discussing his passions and fears as well as his life as a doctor, poet, Hispanic American, and gay man

Author: Campo, Rafael
Title: The poetry of healing: a doctors education in empathy, identity and desire
Publisher: WW Norton & Co
Year: 1998
ISBN: 0393317714

Hughes, T. Birthday Letters

Ted Hughes‘s Birthday Letters are addressed, with just two exceptions, to Sylvia Plath, the American poet to whom he was married. They were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963, and represent Ted Hughes’s only account of his relationship with Plath and of the psychological drama that led both to the writing of her greatest poems and to her death. The book became an instant bestseller on its publication in 1998 and won the Forward Prize for Poetry in the same year.

Author: Hughes, Ted
Title: Birthday Letters
Publisher: Faber
Year: 1998
ISBN: 0571194729