Glenn Colquhoun spent his early years listening – listening to Bible stories and sermons, listening to the Pasifika and Maori families he was growing up amongst in south Auckland and listening to the hybrid languages of the streets and playgrounds.

Colquhoun gained a degree in English, before starting a medical degree. Although he occasionally considers writing fulltime, Colquhoun says practising medicine gives him access to stories and situations he wouldn't otherwise come across.

Going to work at his Horowhenua youth clinic is, he says, "like reading a Dickens novel every day – the characters, the joys, the sorrows, the ridiculousness and the pathos, it's all there".

His second collection of poetry, Playing God, won both the Poetry Award and the People's Choice Award at the 2003 Montana Book Awards, the first time a book of poetry had taken the people's choice vote. It is the only book of poetry in New Zealand to have sold more than 5000 copies.

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Since then he has written children's books, imagined a meeting between Celtic and Maori gods in North South, described his relationship with his former wife, published a collection of essays and poems about the relationship between Pākehā and Māori medical practice and in 2016 published Late love - sometimes doctors need saving as much as their patients.

"I've always felt safer with words," he says. "I was always frightened in medicine that I didn't know enough – and when you do know it, they've changed it. It took me a while to have some confidence as a doctor."

In 2010 Colquhoun received a Fulbright scholarship to research medical storytelling programmes and he and David Galler, an intensive care specialist at Middlemore Hospital, are among those who launched The Medicine Stories Project, an online space for doctors to tell their stories, in whatever form they like.

"Medicine is an old art form," the website says, "and at the heart of its practice is the consultation. This involves a patient telling a doctor a story. Bodies have a plot, as do illnesses and treatments and doctors. Often untangling and interpreting these plots can shed light on a person's situation, as well as a pathway forward in any treatment they might need. Listening well is a way of caring for a patient and for ourselves – it is a medicine in itself."


Oral Poetry and Totems with Glenn Colquhoun, 11.30am (student price available); Things that Matter with Glenn Colquhoun and David Galler, 2.30pm, both Sunday, June 3, X Space, Baycourt. Tickets from www.ticketek.co.nz or Baycourt. See the full Escape! programme at www.taurangafestival.co.nz