Poetry and medicine

Emma Storr

Emma Storr
Emma Storr

The practice of medicine is very demanding emotionally, whatever specialty you are in. Writing, for me, is way of processing that emotion, and often also trying to distill a particular interaction with a particular individual while also saying something about the everyday human experience of illness, vulnerability and joy. It’s a way of thinking out loud and responding to my experience in a creative way.

I love trying to craft a piece of writing by choosing the right words and, in the case of poetry, shaping the poem on the page. I am also in awe of the human body and brain. Writing gives me a way to explore the mystery of the way we function mentally and physically at a lot of different levels. It keeps me learning. I like the way that poetry allows an opening of our senses and blurs the artificial divide between art and science.

Home Visit

I visit him monthly
“It’s doctor!” I shout.
He sits in the lounge
in the worn armchair,
the gas fire’s blazing
he doesn’t go out,
the windows shut tight
against burglars and air.
We go through a ritual:
enquiry … reply.
doctor black bagOn some days he says
he is doing okay.
Or sometimes he’s quiet
then starts to cry.
I listen and murmur
relieved I can’t stay.
He calls on Death often
to wrap him in snow
let whiteness envelop
his pain and his fear.
I’m powerless to help him
give up and let go
he’s chained by disease
linking year onto year.
I let myself out.
He’s not moved at all.
I drive away slowly.
Make the next call.


Beached on the bed, squeezed by pain,
I felt them surge, then change their minds.

One heartbeat slowed, fell downhill.
Worried voices overhead.

Needles in my back, my arm,
robes of green draped my view.

Anointed, framed, my body theirs,
the scalpel cut a straight line.

They pulled each baby out fast,
as if they might drown each other.

Midnight stepped between their births,
the witching hour sliced in two.


 Sometimes connection
you let go       of      the      thread
or          wander                                 off
as if another colour caught you
in its weft.
Numbers confuse. Frac-
                                      tions make no sense.
Long      long     division
(a challenge you enjoyed)
is a chasm where you
You crumple the page in the newspaper
Sudoku and cross words
                                       printed to tease.
Never good at navigation
             your East and West
swing                                       round.
The sun shifts, familiar paths
Home hides round corners.
Landmarks you trusted

Parakeets in Bradford

parakeets flying

rip the air,
squawking and swooping
through the streets,
slivers of green and red
in the winter oaks.
They have left the drench
of warm rain,
palm tree fruits and fronds,
for suburbia −
nuts in cages,
branches without leaves.
Their cries weave through
mills and mosques.
The slate sky
trembles with colour,
brushed by wings.

Dr Emma Storr has worked as a GP and Senior Lecturer in General Practice in both Dunedin (NZ) and in Leeds (UK), where she currently lives. She is now turning her attention to poetry and has recently completed an MPhil in Writing at the University of South Wales. Emma’s poem, “Differential”, was commended in the 2016 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine.

Read Emma’s review of “The Poetry Pharmacy” on Corpus here.

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