The Milkweed Monarchs – Commended NHS Entry – Hippocrates Poetry Prize 2014


The Milkweed Monarchs

I was riding my favourite bike. The Chopper
with the red flag and the silver streamers on the handlebars.
Minding my own business, cruising down Beach Road
to school at Kaikoura Flat. Happened right outside the
Whale Watch Office. “Idiot tourists,” Dad said,
“never bloody look where they’re going.”

Don’t remember much after that. Just the pain
in my tummy, the chunder and that funny shaped
bruise that crept like a shadow across my skin.
“Handlebars mashed his Pancreas,” the guy said to Mum
after they airlifted me to Christchurch. Wish I could
remember the ride. They’d given me the needle by then.

Couldn’t understand a word when I came to; most of
the docs were from England. Got my own room
on the kids ward though, was pretty stoked at first.
Turns out nine weeks in one room can really turn you off
a place. Kept telling me I couldn’t eat and put a stupid
tube in my chest, for the ‘food’ to drip in overnight.

Would’ve gone mad if it weren’t for the Monarchs.
Mum and Dad bought them in from the farm,
loads of tiny ones on bunches of Milkweed. Boy were
they hungry, just ate and ate whilst I couldn’t. Got fatter
and fatter, the black and yellow stripes growing
further apart. Docs were more interested in them than me.

Didn’t mind though, those ugly critters. Gave most of them
names. Watched how they crawled round my room before
they tucked their tails under like upside-down question marks.
Mum said I was daft, but I knew they would save me.
As soon as they slipped on those bright green overcoats
and changed for good, wearing precious crowns of gold.

“Coincidence,” the docs said. I don’t reckon. My pancreas
would’ve been stuffed if it weren’t for them. When the
cocoons turned black and then transparent, I could see
orange wings inside. First one came out all small and wet
with a loud POP. Just like the noise my brother makes
when people kiss on TV. I knew it was my time too.

Pressed the buzzer and the nurses came flying.
Pulled out the drips, blood spurting over the sheets
but I was free. Stretched my arms wide and stuffed a
Chocolate Fish in my mouth before they got near me.
You should’ve heard the shouting, but I didn’t care;
there weren’t no Pseudocyst in me no more.


I was inspired to write the poem ‘The Milkweed Monarchs’ after working as a junior doctor in Paediatrics in New Zealand. The parents of a patient brought in Milkweed plants with tiny caterpillars on to entertain her (and all the staff too.) The memory of those caterpillars turning into Monarch butterflies on the children’s ward whilst the patient recovered is something that will always stay with me.


The Hippocrates Prize has attracted interest from 61 countries in the 5 years since its launch.
The prize, at £5000 is among the largest of its kind in the world for a single poem.
It aims to bring together interest in the interface between health and poetry from health professionals, patients and their families, and poets from around the world.


Words Copyright Eliot North 2014.


Image from Brain Pickings – ‘Art, Science and Butterfly Metamorphosis: How a 17th-Century Woman Laid the Foundations of Modern Entomology.’

(I realise this isn’t a Monarch Image or Milkweed BUT it’s a lovely image and a great post from Brain Pickings. Check it to below……)


Ensemble : A Poem about the beginnings of Performing Research

Ensemble : A Poem about the beginnings of Performing Research


In darkness, we gather at St Luke’s
on Claremont. Light shines
from mullioned windows.

Strangers, we search for a way inside
(outside our normal spheres.)

Known only by symbols:
we do not speak, yet we say so much.

We move alone
before we group and clump,
divide and separate.

Making mirrors of each other’s bodies.

We Stop,
We Go,
Jump Up,
Crouch Down.

Go back then forwards.
Or is it just the reverse?

We make eye contact,
then break away.

Only to look back over our shoulders
(before doing it again with someone new.)

Nothing here is proper:
we are no longer comforted by fact.

Instructed we form a circle.
Move closer, closer,closer
until our bodies touch.

Shoulder to shoulder,
arm in arm,
holding ourselves and then each other.
Palm to palm,
flesh pressed into flesh.

We move,
always some part of our body in contact
with another’s.

Out of curiosity,
and then in anger.
Through mud and water
we make connections.

Breathing, sweating, limbs entwining,
clamouring to the compass points.

Repelled and attracted in equal measure.

Neither death nor gravity can part us:

We Move Together
As One.

Words Copyright Eliot North 2014


I read this poem after the Performing Research show at Northern Stage on 27th March 2014. We then had a panel discussion about using performance and theatre to engage the public and explore our different cross-disciplinary research and teaching interests throughout Newcastle University.  It was a fabulous night and has been a hugely successful and enriching experience being part of the Performing Research ensemble guided by Cap-a-Pie.

The Jackdaw – by Fiona Campbell

I found this stop-motion animation video clip on Rachel Poliquin’s fantastic website ‘Ravishing Beasts’

Her book ‘The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing’ is also an excellent read.
The only people who perform human taxidermy as far as I can see are anatomists. The only anatomists to display human bodies as we have been accustomed to seeing animals is Gunther von Hagens in his Body Worlds exhibition using a technique called ‘plastination.’

Beauty In Death

As I’m just getting the hang of this blogging business I’ve stumbled on so many great creative people who are blogging and sharing that creative energy.

This image by Rosie Scribblah struck me as being particularly beautiful.


19 dead crow

Husb and I went to the Mission Gallery’s new show opening tonight and nearly fell over with the heatwave after about 10 minutes so we left and strolled along the seafront on our way home and came across this dead bird. It’s some sort of crow and was fairly recently dead as only a couple of flies had found it. Such a beautiful creature, black and glossy and at repose. Then as we arrived home, some friends arrived and stayed for some ice cold home-made elderflower cordial. It’s so refreshing in this weather. Our friends asked if we’d taken a photo of the bird.

“Ew no!” I said, “that would be weird!”

“And standing around for 10 minutes in public drawing a little corpse isn’t?” they asked.

Hmm. Fair comment. Drawn into my A5 cloth-bound sketchbook, prepared with ripped brown wrapping paper, with Faber Castell Pitt pens, sizes S, F…

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