Yale-UCL Medical & Engineering Students’ Poetry Competition 2017-2018: Announcement of Winners!
16 May 2018
The winners of the 2017 Yale-UCL Medical & Engineering Students’ poetry competition have been announced! There were over 90 entries this year and the judging panel were delighted by the standard of poetry as well as the range of themes written upon.
The results are:
First place, £1000: Kristina Brown (Yale Medicine) with ‘Cita’
Joint second place, £500 each: Sabie Rainton (UCL Medicine) with ‘The Jungle’ and Olivia Pang (UCL Medicine) with ‘Kenneth’
Highly commended: Muhammad Yusoff (UCL Medicine) with ‘fall and an insomniac’s tanka’
The poetry competition was launched in February 2011 by Professor John Martin (UCL Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine) who is the co-director of the Yale-UCL Collaborative. The competition is for medical and engineering students at both universities and is student run with this year’s competition being organised by Amrita D’Souza (UCL Medicine).
The competition was born in the hope of inspiring, nurturing and promoting the humanities within medical education and to help provide an outlet for students.
- Winner: Krisina Brown (Yale Medicine)
I notice her hands first: the contrast is stark as the dark cattle against the snow-covered hillside
on the drive here. The way home lies somewhere between wintry wonderland and wishful thinking
It’s been three and a half months since I saw her last, since I left this small town world behind
for medical school, and already, her hands have changed:
The same hands that once spun stories on Saturdays
fingertips darting details into every account of my childhood
The hands I watched transform when I was a teenager
when she returned from the hospital in a wheelchair and those hands
once dazzling creatures, sat limp and swollen in her lap
I held those hands when the days grew long, extra squeezes when I couldn’t find the words
when I started calling her Cita, her favorite nickname, my way of saying
“Mother, I have not forgotten how tall you once stood but I cherish you all the more now”
Hers are the hands that I saw get better, helped to button up pink pajamas
Watched flutter skywards in laughter. Now her left hand does the talking, quietly
Her right hand rests across her chest as though protecting some subtle ache
“Cita-” this time Cita is a question I don’t know how to ask. She explains she’s just a little cold
I marvel at the details she omits. I wonder if she feels the chill of my absence
I notice the thin film of gravel on the hardwood, remnants of all her trips to the lake without me
The comet tails of her wheelchair tracks sweep past the coffee table, past the cranberry sofa
where I once fell asleep sometime in college and woke up to catch her staring
in a voice marbled by tears, she told me, “I don’t remember the last time I got to watch you sleeping
You looked just the way you did when you were a baby”
She looked at me as though I didn’t know what it’s like to miss someone
who’s right in front of me. She looks at me the same way now
Although I stand before her, there is still a departure plane ticket lingering in the air
like the last leaf of November, a breath of New Haven at the ends of my sentences
She is hurting. I can tell by the single tug at the corner of her rose petal lips
And those hands. Try as I might, I cannot uncurl those fingers
cannot un-clench arm from chest. I wonder how she can hold on to so much heartache
I wish she knew the sweet rush of weightlessness that comes with letting go
Even in her sleep, she holds that hand to her chest as if in remembrance
of the puttering of a newborn’s heartbeat against her own
On my last day of Thanksgiving break, I wash her face, humming under my breath
She tells me my voice doesn’t sound the same over the phone. “Cita,” I say, as an apology
Later that day we sit together reading our books, mirroring each other:
glasses on, fresh stories before us, a plate of oranges between us
She tells me, “I wish I could read my book and eat oranges with you forever.” We share a smile
Weeks later I return home for winter break. Cita awakens to the sunrise and the scratchy yawn of the front door. I find her swaddled in pink sheets, hair as dark as a dreamless night
“Cita I am here,” I say when it is clear her eyes have not yet convinced her
Suddenly, both of her storyteller hands outstretch to greet me
her smile disintegrates in tears as her cheeks turn to soft clay in my hands.
Kristina describes ‘Cita’, the winning poem, as “my tribute to home and all it encompasses: my mother’s indelible strength in her experience with chronic illness and the ways in which both time and distance have shaped our relationship"
- Joint second: Sabie Rainton (UCL Medicine)
Reflections on the Calais ‘Jungle’, Summer 2016
Tent city, sitting pretty, lulling on the sand dunes,
Underneath a summer moon,
Under winter sun and hell-fire rain,
Come wind, come frost, come summer again.
A caged-in prison of monitored freedom,
Bustling within the confines of the nervous police lines.
Township of potential, saviour of hope,
Life and detention, tarpaulin and rope.
Little Iraq, Little Afghanistan, Little Syria,
Not at all littler, but a thousand times fiercer,
Pockets of community, mint tea, black tea,
Black coffee, but always enough to share.
No one’s ‘forever’, but everyone’s ‘right now’,
United like never before ‘gainst the drag of the plough.
Completely divided, unique, unspeakably brave.
A thousand lifetimes of stories,
A thousand reminders of the grave.
The weather comes and goes but the wanderers remain,
Teetering barely between safe and slain.
Rain of cold, and dark, and rubber bullets
Soak everything through but always knew it
Wouldn’t, couldn’t stem the fight
Of souls who’ll chance it, cloaked in night.
The land of hope, with iron fist,
The undulating morning mist,
The chants of ‘go’, ‘turn back’ and ‘no’
From those whose young have chance to grow
No resting place of brick and mortar
For rest-in-peace your son and daughter.
The drive of fear, the chance you’ll take
With nothing left to put at stake.
The world cheek-turns, shrugs shoulders, sighs,
For weathered faces, sunken eyes,
Told stories through a printed page
Numb-minded past the point of rage.
‘It’s sad, but what else can we do?’
But what it ‘they’ weren’t ‘them’ but ‘you’?
Describing her poem, Sabie explains “I visited the Calais Jungle/Dzanghal with a team of medics in 2016. It was a profound experience that had a massive impact on me. The camp was definitely a thing of beauty and disaster, an entire settlement growing completely isolated by a ring of police presence. I wanted to try and capture that sense of it being both utterly magnificent, yet borne of something entirely tragic. Now the Jungle's been demolished, the discussion about the migrant crisis seems to have died down, but the migrant population is still there in France, and conditions are worse than ever. It's really important than we keep talking about the problem and developing solutions (see care4calais.org for new updates and volunteering opportunities). I was so honoured to be placed in the competition, and I can't wait to read the other poems! “
- Joint second: Olivia Pang (UCL Medicine)
You will never know me but I
I saw you.
I listened into the void for your breath
and your heart, and for a second I heard a
Fear grips all at once, a sickened swoop until I-
It’s just me.
Beating alone into your silence.
Clear eyes, lakes of crystal blue,
Skin a wan yellow of grief,
A still object robed in
resounding echoes of a future anguish.
I serenade you with
the sound of my heart beating
‘Futile. Futile. Futile’.
What fates should have led me to you, kind teacher,
that you should tell,
Not of poetry and mourning,
Nor cherished memories, unspoken regret,
Nor dark storms and anguished cries,
Nor stories of great journeys and glorious rebirth,
But a still man’s stark truth in white sheets-
I close your eyes…
Death, stripped of ceremony,
Is an anonymous room in grey morning light
Where two strangers meet
and one leaves.
On being awarded second place, Olivia writes: “In many ways, I have experienced clinical medicine as a series of losses: loss of fear, loss of naivety, and loss of self-doubt. But also erosion of empathy, erosion of idealism, and erosion of identity. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to express a moment that moved me, that I didn’t want to lose to hard-heartedness. It was also a joy to be able to reconnect with the part of myself that loved to write. Thank you.”
- Highly commended: Muhammad Yusoff (UCL Medicine)
fall and an insomniac’s tanka*
browning leaves, laden
with tears; wearily waiting
for autumn mercy
dreaming of falling snow, whilst
I lie here, dreaming of dreams
*A tanka is a form of Japanese poetry, with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern.