Virginia O’Keefe Hermit Crab
Glen Phillips A Heavier Winter
dave drayton Epithalamium for William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck & Lady Dorothy Cavendish
Annette Mullumby Echo and Narcissus
Youth Incentive Award
Josephine Marston A Little Birdie
Judge’s Comments Peter Jeffery OAM
With over 300 entries in this year’s Poetry d’Amour contest the candidate had a one in fifty chance of gaining the prize or an award, and to make infinitely sure I ran through the whole field again and again before making my final decisions. As always, many entries literally missed out by a hairsbreadth but unfortunately there has to be a cut-off point.
As judges before me I am amazed that many candidates do not use the checking devices available and submit very faulty entries that show a lack of respect for the seriousness of their attempt. For example, do you read the poem aloud to self and others which is one of the speediest ways of finding any infelicities? My mentor Griff Watkins had his literal ‘butcher-baker-candlestick maker’ approach when he would show his poem to ten or more local people at all levels to make improvements and gauge its readiness for submission.
Because the average person reads poetic text rather than hears and sees oral presentation, candidates should pay scrupulous attention to their printed lay-outs and the reasons they have arranged it that way.
Interestingly this year saw many more prose poems /monologue meditations and calligraphic forays than in the past as a shift in genres and formats, be aware too that the modern tendency not to use punctuation can lead into unfortunate misreading. Further, try to avoid over-used motifs such as ebb and flow of tide as a metaphor to the to and fro of love, which comes out as hackneyed and mundane as roses are red and the stars are above. I almost reached for my red pen when I saw another coming. See my comment in regard to ‘stranieri’ in my comments on the Youth Incentive Award, and give me a veritable tsunami if you have to go that way, ugh!
Finally realise that the poem you write does not really exist until it is read by somebody other than yourself, and paradoxically for the reader her/himself its meaning and their understanding of it can change on each further reading. With over four full-field culls this has been definitely the case in my assessment process.
Right, dropping my school masterly manner and on to the awards and a highlighting of the element that led to its selection,
Hermit Crab by Virginia O’Keeffe (WA).
I have two sons in their fifties and they are still active surfers so what a delight to see one of my favourite poets reveal a ‘hippy’ side to her life. I have selected this poem because it resonates to the ideal picture of those attitudes that make us uniquely Australian and as identifiable as our accent globally. Full of event and vigour with startling perceptions as the ‘air turning squid ink’ and the telling line of ‘tracks of love’ – the basis of the awards – with ‘stained seats, sheets, sand beds, upended masts.’
I loved the personification as a hermit crab scurrying everywhere and the changing panel van’s rusting that leads to the next habitation and shift in lifestyle. Totally accessible, slightly cynical and ebulliently buoyant!
A Heavier Winter by Glen Phillips (WA).
What a pleasant surprise for the writer tor be revealed from the anonymous entry and its bearing on the aspect of West Australian cultural Heritage that the poem brings. Recently for World Poetry Day a group of our more senior poets presented a session entitled TOWARDS A TRADITION OF WA POETRY as a cultural Heritage project. Sadly, at that time ill health and other heavy demands led to Glen withdrawing from the project and now here he is scooping yet another local poetry award as he did with the recent Ros Spencer award by Ann Gilchrist. His poem celebrates Sally Clarke who was such a superb catalyst for the online CREATRIX magazine and delightful chapbooks of the gifted KSP group of Tuesday poets, in a uniquely counter pointing style, where he draws on the whinging winter weather to the heart-warming fireplace of the KSP WRITING CENTRE with its blazing mound of Mallee roots. Another arrow delivered to the project of celebrating our past West Australian poets as part of our cultural basis.
She Starts Playing After Ten Years of Silence by Damen O’Brien (QLD).
Narrative or story-telling was the staple of camp-fire entertainment as poetry developed as an essential human activity and this poem is both lively celebratory as well as hauntingly enigmatic, making its hearers provide a speculative response to the trauma or grieving of the mother and its impact on her family. A wonderful illustration of the maxim ‘And all things shall come to pass’.
September 8, 2017 by Kerry Greer (WA).
This monologue/narrative foregrounds the current public concern with suicide and depression caused by stress, over-work, and isolation in our working and domestic lives. Shelley felt that poets were unseen legislators, but most poets realise that their works on political themes can lead to jingoistic ideological claptrap yet feel they must speak out nonetheless and in so doing at least put our concerns in public circulation that lead to abrupt overnight social change. In short poems, can be interrogated for their worthiness in this regard, and this poem is a superb dramatization of suicide from its narrator the pregnant wife who sees her husband as a Judas in denial of the world and its depressing quotidian.
Her handling of the intrusively tactless police leads to heart wrenching grief and then the numbing acceptance of the normalising quotidian. But its ending rends the reader with the Mother Teresa pathos of a final touching contact that made the poem so powerful for me as judge.
Epithalamium for William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck & Lady Dorothy Cavendish by dave drayton (NSW).
As mentioned in my preamble, calligraphy is a rarely rewarded poetic element but current trends are making it a growing centre of attention. Its emblematic shape enhances the idea of love and its tenor reaches back in history to the time of the Metaphysicals. A superb example with delightful allusion.
Echo and Narcissus by Anette Mullumby (WA).
Humour handled well, with its light relief from over-seriousness, makes poetry more accessible. This delightful send-up of the fantasies of love poetry, now that the writer has had a few real love affairs of her own, spreadeagles the field. Beautifully paced throughout, its climax is abrupt and wrenches us into the everyday mundanity of things. It would provide a great header for a creative writing exercise on being aware of emotional excesses.
YOUTH INCENTIVE AWARD
I expected to see more than 5 entrants for the YOUTH INCENTIVE AWARD with its attractive cash prize created to bring out the realisation that Poetry could be a mainstay in their everyday Life. When one reflects that many of our contributing adult poets are or were schoolteachers I am surprised that they are not enlisting and mentoring their students to enter the Award given the aims of WAPI to return Poetry as an aspect of everyone’s everyday Life. It behoves us to get into the schools far more than currently. Veronica Lake’s Primo Lux reach into major High Schools and its grooming for major Poetry Award winners on entry into the Universities and fresh blood for readers at the Moon Cafe is something that we should emulate and make it our aim for 2022 and beyond.
And now to the award itself … All entries but one entry showed up well with the average adult entrant and accordingly feature normally in the overall anthology.
From Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, I have as benchmarks for my poetics of the two concepts ‘condensare’ and ‘stranieri’ and they apply to this award admirably. To win, the poem should have been made ‘strainieri’ that is strikingly different so as to be attention catching, and this proved the case with close runner up “Snakebush II” which skilfully interwove the physicality of our five senses with different locations, instead of presenting the tired old hackneyed qualities that are conventionally paraded as attributes in finding the ‘ideal male’ in the poems I rejected. Now for the Winner:
A Little Birdie by Josephine Marston (WA).
I was taken by Josephine Marston’s “A Little Birdie” and her attempt to submerge herself back into the world of the three-year-old to recreate the first stumbling steps in language and behaviour to reach the Jesuit’s seven-year-old who can begin to take responsibility for his/her actions.
In this I was obviously influenced by a family anecdote of when my uncle challenged his daughter as to the disappearance of his prized strawberries and she asked how he knew. “Because a little birdie told me!’ He rejoindered and continued ‘Why did you do that?’ and charmingly she replied ‘Because a little Birdie told me!’
From the opening belief that little birdies know so much the child grapples with the concept of love and by referring it to the senses that it utilises to comprehend the flurry of the world ‘like pink bubble gum, floating through the vast blue sky’ it shares that knowledge by whatever means she can. It gradually understands that to be truly adult the feeling of love is more complex and ends all of this up with a throw-away ‘chatter of chirps’ that Love will come to us all.
Tide’s in, waves rush quietly then slap ochre rocks with a gust and sigh.
Out at sea the sun sank like a giant balloon and the air turned squidink.
You and I made love in the panel van, a grey old Holden rocking on
to the rise and fall of the sea below and the rattle of rigging at the dock.
Last time you took the Cat out it flipped, and upended you swam
furiously back to shore, a fear of crocs or rays impelled your strokes.
Let’s face it, you could have sprinted across the rippled shallows
but that’s sailing in a wooden boat which turns to matchsticks
at the next cyclone’s blow hammering on Fannie Bay.
Above bay’s tideline I watch for hermit crabs scuttling from shell to shell
leaving minuscule mountains of sand balls as they realise rent’s increased.
We all leave tracks of love, stained seats, sheets, sand beds, upended masts.
Boats splinter, love can fracture and I am a hermit crab
hunting a new shell cos my last one has grown too small,
has washed away on the shifting dirty tide;
the panel van’s rusting and hermit crabs move again and again.
A Heavier Winter
for the late Sally Clarke
Come down here past rivergums
in a dry riverbed where the faint
smell of damp lingers as memory
of a winter’s roar of waters: sheep
huddled wet on higher ground
of an island in the river flats.
Travellers halted miserably
in steady soaking rain watching
the floodway’s surge. Too wet
to light a fire. And with an early
winter’s evening drawing darkly
in, let me show you the way
to defiant firesides where ample
mallee roots, the spoils of cleared
bush, are banked up white-hot
right to the back of the hearth.
September 8, 2017
Like Judas to himself
He took a piece of paper,
Lit it at the gas stove,
Then lay down to die
Bleeding from his heart,
In real life.
The piece of paper said things like:
Tomatoes, milk, oolong tea, hand soap.
It was normal life
Going up in flames.
When I was pregnant,
He would stand at that stove
Making me bone broth
So our son would have the strongest bones.
The Police Officer said to me,
What tattoos did he have?
And as I screamed,
Wisps of my heart
Escaped my mouth,
Floating from the embers
In my chest,
Looking for wisps of him
In the clouds.
I can’t feel much anymore.
It’s good. It’s how it should be.
I go shopping for:
Tomatoes, milk, oolong tea, hand soap,
And I don’t even cry.
But, sometimes, when I stand at the stove,
I think of the last things he saw
As he lay down to die,
And I want to tell him:
Your son has the strongest bones
He would make a Viking proud.
If this is what you think you want to do,
Let me lie down next to you
And hold you.
She Starts Playing After Ten Years of Silence
In this house of music lovers, I never hear her sing.
This house of tuneless humming and trigger words
segueing conversations down the rabbit hole of lyrical correlation,
until we lose the tail of meaning in
bursts of song.
One son who drips and drips a five-bar earworm,
another who can recite Jean Valjean and Cossette
with the London Cast.
But she is silent.
Tonight, I hear her moving about the house downstairs,
aimlessly testing her fingers against
the reality of the things we have accumulated,
looking through sticky photo albums,
the pages lifting together
and when she finds the folded sheaths
of random music she has put away,
I hear her breathe quietly over the bony nail of a flute
and wake it up,
and as the night throws shadows into my eyes
I hear her sing a few lines.
She is happy.
There is nothing I have done or have not done
to make her happy.
The boys and I wait in our bedrooms as quiet as longing
not daring to move
until she finishes the last note.
Epithalamium for William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck
& Lady Dorothy Cavendish
A LADY, YES. YES. SHE HE DIDN’T WANT THIS INITI
DANCES SHE SHINES, SHE’S -ALLY HE’D WANTED MARIA. HE
SHY SHE IS A CHANNEL. SHE IS HAD WANTED ANNE LIDDELL.
A CHANCE. SHE IS ACCESS. SHE IS THESE LADIES. THEIR HEARTS.
MATCH RATHER THAN MARRY. WHAT CHIVALRY? WED CLINICALLY.
HITCH A MARITAL CHAISE WITH CHAINS, WITH WISHES THAT HE
RISE IN RANK, WITH WISHES THAT HIS STAR SHALL RISE AND
SHINE, WITH WISHES THAT SHARE LITTLE HEART, WITH
WISHES SHE LEND HIM HER HERALDRY THAT HE
MAY ADD WITH HIS, A LINK, A LINE, A LIE
A WHILE AWAY, HIS REAL DESIRE
WHILES AWAY, HEART IS
Echo and Narcissus
her first love Paul Newman
saw all his films
fed her heart
on the gossip
of gaudy magazines
festooned her room
with his image
lies on her bed
dreams his lips on hers
her fingertips trace
his chiselled chin
sees herself dance
in the light of his eyes
she falls asleep
a forced embrace
she fights him off
shoves him out
slams the door
rips the pictures
from the walls
shreds with fingernails
flushes the confetti away
the empty walls echo
I once loved you
YOUTH INCENTIVE AWARD
A Little Birdie
A little birdie told me,
That love is like pink bubblegum,
Floating through the vast blue skies.
It told me what love tastes like.
What love smells like.
What love feels like.
Would you like to know?
It tastes like a strawberry,
Which danced on a jam and cream scone.
It smells like fresh air,
And a brand-new brown bear.
But its feeling is more complex,
And differs on the person.
It can feel like a feather caressing a callused fingertip,
Or like the smooth outer shell of a boisterous pearl.
Well at least, that’s what the birdie told me.
So, I asked it, “Will love find its way to me?”
And after a chatter of chirps, it told me,
“It already has.”