Congratulations and kudos to Dr Richard M. Berlin, whose poem “Eye Contact” was chosen to be included in the 2019 Hippocrates Prize Anthology. The poem was one of 22 selected by the Hippocrates Society for Poetry and Medicine, an international group that fosters the interface between poetry and medicine.
Inspired by a portrait of 16th century physician/anatomist Andreas Vesalius standing with a dissected cadaver and looking into the viewer’s eyes, Dr Berlin “felt like I was in the presence of Vesalius himself, making eye contact with a colleague from 500 years ago.” The piece was originally invited by Richard Ratzan, MD, as part of an anthology sharing reflections on Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica, the first comprehensive textbook on anatomy that revolutionized medicine’s understanding of the human body.
The poem was Commended in the Hippocrates Poetry and Medicine Awards Health Professional category. The Society received about 1000 entries from all over the world to be considered for its awards. The 2019 Hippocrates Anthology that features his poem became available at the 10th annual Hippocrates Awards Ceremony in May.
“The poems which caught my eye—and my heart—were both arresting and illuminating,” shared Kate Addie, one of this year’s judges. “I was listening to those who have a deep insight into the human condition—not in a contemplative, detached way, but deeply involved and at times feeling a huge responsibility about the health and state of mind of others.”
Dr Berlin’s Poetry of the Times column has been a monthly feature in Psychiatric Times since 1997. Author of three poetry collections, Dr Berlin has previously received the Pearl Poetry Prize, the Pushcart Prize, the John Ciardi Poetry Prize, and best poetry book by USA Book News. He also fosters creative writing in the health sciences, having established a creative writing prize for medical students, nursing students, resident physicians, and doctoral students at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
“Eye Contact” is included in the 2019 Hippocrates Prize Anthology, which can be ordered at http://hippocrates-poetry.org/order-2019-hippocrates.html.
Historical note: Prior to Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), the understanding of human anatomy was derived from the work of Galen who died in 200 AD. Even though Galen’s findings were based on dissections of Barbary macaques, not humans, his authority was so strong that for 1400 years a succession of anatomists claimed confirmation of Galen’s inaccurate assertions until Vesalius demonstrated they were clearly false. (I refer to some of Vesalius’ findings in my poem, and to various images in Fabrica). Vesalius’s novel practice was to perform human dissections in the presence of others who could directly observe his findings and replicate them. His new knowledge was subsequently preserved and widely distributed in dramatic and detailed images in Fabrica. The name of the artist (or artists) who created the woodcut images is unknown.