Brave Alnwick teacher who turned to poetry wins prize

Teacher and poet Catherine Ayres.'Picture by Jane Coltman
Teacher and poet Catherine Ayres.'Picture by Jane Coltman

An Alnwick-born teacher who battled the odds has come out on top after winning an international poetry award which seeks to link medicine and the arts.

Catherine Newton, who is a teacher at St Paul’s RCVA School, was awarded third prize in the Hippocrates International Prize for Poetry and Medicine last week.

The Hippocrates Prize is a major award focusing on the human experience of medicine and is currently in its sixth year. The entry was taken under her pen name Catherine Ayres.

The English and French teacher was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and had many months of treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She is now free of the illness.

Catherine’s poem called Making Love to LINAC, describes her experience of radiotherapy – something many people across the region can relate to.

She went up against other poets from around 1,000 entries from more than 31 countries around the world.

She said: “I felt like I found a voice to explain and describe my experiences and it made me understand the whole experience a bit better.

“It helped me to make sense and to help me to come out the other side and carry on with normal life.

“The poetry helped me get through it, it was a great comfort to me and made me feel like I had a medium to say things.

“It made me feel like I could express myself through the poetry. All my fears about my illness and all the things that have happened to me, I could make sense of them through the poetry.”

Catherine travelled to the London Medical Society last Friday to accept her prize. She said that ‘it was an overwhelming experience and something I could never have imagined happening when I first started writing poetry during chemotherapy in 2012’.

“I am so honoured to have won a prize and hope and I hope it encourages other patients to find a voice through writing,” she added.

Catherine also runs a creative writing club at the school, where she teaches English and French, and many of her pupils are now keen poets themselves.

Year 8 pupils have travelled to watch their teacher perform at poetry events across the region and some of them have taken part in open-mic nights.

A group of pupils from St Paul’s have been invited to read poetry at the Under the Dome festival in Whitley Bay this summer.

Catherine said: “I’m extremely proud of them and I hope that they will continue to write poetry throughout their lives. It’s such a wonderful way of expressing yourself.”