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three students intently listening to lecturer
Brighton & Sussex Medical School

Ethics in performance - 2011/12 series

Self-Portrait Without Breasts

A black and white portrait of Clare Best

Self-Portrait Without Breasts

4 October 2011

6.30 pm

Chowen Lecture Theatre, BSMS Teaching Building

BSMS collaborated with poet Clare Best and photographer Laura Stevens to deliver a thought-provoking evening exploring the impact of a preventative double mastectomy.

Clare kept a journal through the process of decision-making, surgery and recovery. She also made plaster casts of her body and asked Laura Stevens to take before and after photographs.

Clare performed some of her poems alongside a display of Laura’s photographs.

The performance and display of photos, together with a discussion led by Dr James Mackay, Consultant Clinical Genetic Oncologist (University College London), was the pilot event for Clare's project.

Pighog Press are bringing out a pamphlet to accompany the performance/project. This publication will have ten of the poems, some of the photographs, as well as an article by Professor Gareth Evans, Consultant in Genetic Medicine, St Mary's Hospital Manchester.

For more information about the project, visit Clare's blog,

Self-portrait without Breasts is included in Clare Best's debut poetry collection, Excisions, available now from Waterloo Press,


"A fine cycle pf sustained self-examination, both physical and spiritual."

Michael Hulse


"These poems made me think again, and deeply, about how I inhabit my body, how I see myself, and how I am seen."

Sarah Salway


"Unpredictable, erotic and philosophically demanding"

Jackie Wills


TWO WEEKS BEFORE SURGERY, a poem by Clare Best

'Cast me and I will become what I must be'

We’ve oiled my shoulders, collarbone,
breasts – olive-scented, shiny
as greased rubberwood, I’m primed for casting.
You soak chalky bandages, wrap me

in slapstick layers of white –
a sacrament to tender body and life.
Working fast before the plaster sets
we smooth wet dressings onto slippery skin –

keep my contours, take my shape;
at every fold and ruck we stop, look closer
to remember. I lie death-still, encased,
breath slow-drawn, not to crack my shell:

an end and a beginning. Beneath the carapace
I hum a lullaby – you lift the curves away,
cast off my breastplate,
air moving like shadow over sentenced flesh.