2019 Poetry d’Amour Contest Winners

 

Judge’s Report Andrew Burke

 

Prize Winners

First Prize

Francesca Jurate Sasnaitis     Memento Mori

Second Prize

Brian Purcell    First Night

Highly Commended

Peter Burges   Your Sun-on-the-stubble Smile

Fran Graham  Distracted

Commended

Natalie D-Napoleon    Meet Me Under the Mulberry Tree

Kevin Gillam   between ten and twelve

Youth Incentive Award

Christopher Rogue      Not Like the Sun

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Judge’s Report

‘I love the winter sun in Perth!’ my wife said as we hang the washing out.  I peg hurriedly to get back to 244 poems I must judge for Poetry D’Amour. For such a titled competition, I am surprised there are no poems in French and I wonder how romantic English is as a tongue. I sweat over the definition of Love Poetry and spend days focussing on the boundaries of Love. My favourite definition of poetry is,Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking (John Wain), but I don’t have such an easy definition of Love. The Eskimo language has over a hundred words for Ice, (Yes, there really are over one-hundred Inuit words for sea ice! – Meghan Mulkerin, Rogers’ Archaeology Lab)but English has so many applicationsfor the word Love. That one emotion-charged word means many things. There are love clichés a plenty from pop songs and a long list of well-known lyric poems, so to be truly poetic in this day and age a writer must be highly creative – and creation, in my lexicon, means to create something out of nothing, as Ezra Pound said, ‘Make it NEW.’ The best are rich in life’s experiences and communicate meaningfully with readers who are open to them.

Here, in the following pages, we have 90 Poems to test the freshness of Love and Poetry. Sincerity and Creativity combining together in a bed of Tradition, for ever refreshing the boundaries of Love.  Judging them and awarding distinction to some and not others was a tough task. After 60 years of writing poetry myself, many of them teaching the mechanics of verse, I appraise a poem’s sincerity as much as its technique. On that basis I would like to print all entries! But I had to be practical and lean on the objective side of judging. So I looked for poems that were the vehicles for the transportation of sincere emotion – with some wit and skill in writing.

Answering all this criteria, Mememto Moriby Francesca Juarte Sasnaitis stood out. I read it once in the hurly burly of domestic life, earmarked it, and went back to it in the quiet of early morning. I was still excited by its strength of phrasing and its directness of statement, with literary and artistic allusions adding to the depth of it. Here I am now trying to find a cluster of lines that will speak to the whole, but it is impossible. So I will simply quote one of my favourite verses:

I cannot swear to stay your sorrow when I die; I promise nothing but
A memento of my having been, a keepsake woven from my childhood
Plait of golden hair (long since tarnished). At least I have that meagre skill,
The art of braiding three fat strands into a bobby-pinned Frida Kahlo crown.

 

This poem braids together three rich strands of poetry skills: literary/ creative allusions, the primary one being Anna Akhmatova (as stated by a footnote); an intimate tone, well-balanced and rich in imagery; and a completeness which leaves the reader included and satisfied. This is a poem to be shared and reread many times.

Wow, the second place winner is such a different style of poem than the first! First Nightby Brian Purcellis simple and direct, intimate as only physical love can be, and complete as a picture but only the start of a rich narrative. I must say it meant a lot to me personally, memories spilling out as the words whispered.

later
in the dark hallway
everything’s changed

Distracted by Fran Graham is a poem full of familiar techniques, but none of the regular pitfalls! It is rich poetry in a humble voice. It is set in a domestic scene with a rich vein of memory leading to a longing which is familiar to all lovers:

I wonder if you’ll come again
In my courtyard
made over from whatevers to maybes
I ask my terracotta warrior’s opinion
but he looks straight ahead
and demurs.
Meanwhile I check my inbox
with a frequency
bordering on obsessive.

Thank you to Gary De Piazzi, Tineke Van der Eecken and the WA Poets Inc committee, especially Jaya Penelope who managed and prepared the submissions for judging, who stage Poetry d’Amourevery year for awarding me with this enriching task. I must say I appreciated all the poems sent in. Reading them and rereading them was a delightful break from the bad news in the media and the insincerity of our leaders. May love become a stronger force in our nation’s character and may your writing hand grow stronger every day.

Andrew Burke, PhD

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First Prize

Memento Mori

If I were Russian and a poet like Akhmatova, I might swear My dear,
my dear! I will die with you, I will die when you die,a declaration
repeated in the sough and sway of birch groves, in winds that sweep
the barren steppes, in a dirge intoned by Red Army Choir baritones.

But in this more prosaic age, this pragmatic Perth, I cannot swear to die
within an hour or two or months of you, to honour a pact neither you
nor I have had the courage to proclaim. They call it death with dignity,
pretty words for dressing up the phrase ‘assisted suicide’. Dead is dead,

let’s not prevaricate. We feel the pinch. Time runs faster than we prefer—
not long remains, not long. We snigger at the word ‘remains’, still silly
at our age. You, my beloved analyst, will count how often I write ‘age’.
Too often, you will say. At our age, forever is approaching. You say,

‘forever’ as if it were a word to undo death, a word you wield like a spell,
an incantation. I had an aunt once, who always swore that she was fine.
According to my ageshe’d say, but meaning she felt crook, creaking,
bowed. Yesterday, we avoided Valentine’s Day, patron saint of apiarists,

and declared every other day a honeyed kiss, a cause for celebration.
Today, I heard about Death Cafés, places for the dying and bereaved—
7878 world-wide, would you believe? It sounds satanic! We’re lucky
we have no need of strangers; we have each other for the time being.

I cannot swear to stay your sorrow when I die; I promise nothing but
a memento of my having been, a keepsake woven from my childhood
plait of golden hair (long since tarnished). At least I have that meagre skill,
the art of braiding three fat strands into a bobby-pinned Frida Kahlo crown.

Yesterday, I trawled through Pinterest and found volumes of ‘how to’
instruction in the rituals of Victorian mourning—pendants, lockets,
brooches to pin close and pierce the wearer’s heart with memories of loss.
Though I am no Deborah Klein, no weaver of stifling labyrinths—

plaits, braids, curls, loops, rolls, knots of hair as intricate as Escher’s
tessellated stairs—perhaps I should start now to warp and weft a token
to remind you of the love we shared before the lid slams shut, earth rains
down or flames consume, and all roads to the past are blocked.

Francesca Jurate Sasnaitis

Notes:

– ‘Song of the Last Meeting’ by Anna Akhmatova (1911) inspired the first lines.

– Knots and braids are a recurring motif in the work of contemporary Australian artist Deborah Klein.

– ‘Echo’ by Anna Akhmatova (1960) inspired the last lines.

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Second Prize

First Night

Though I’ve loved you for years
friends only
sharing a bed

your arm rests
in the hollow
of my chest –

I turn to you
we kiss…
and can’t stop

my heart’s shocked
ideal is replaced
by your flushed skin

above mine
your body’s weight
makes earth spin

later
in the dark hallway
everything’s changed

the walls, the doors
within
I can’t find

where I’ve been
or am going
even to piss –

returning slowly
I see
your naked body

curling in the bedclothes –
the light
of the first morning

Brian Purcell

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Highly Commended

Your Sun-on-the-stubble Smile

for my father

Burning childhood drawings,
I remember how, each summer,
the creek I sank amulets in—

for luck—to ward inchoate terrors—
ran dry, revealing earth
rough-soft as paper-bark,

dead grandma’s skin;
how childhood fevers blurred
drawn trees and birds, shifted

the lines of the world by half
an inch, providing space for colours
to run awry, for cawing winds

to roost unseen, swirl maelstroms
full of fright;
how a mid-winter bullet ruptured

our heads, trapped screams,
so each winter after stars’ hisses
dripped acerbic onto salted paddocks

you had first fenced, then worked
to the bone. But I remember, too,
how, on hearing my brother

gabbling to himself
after the homeyard gumtree
we thought all those years

was so massively sheltering
our corner of the world
had fallen, twisting the sky

over its back, I saw it had always
been your warm-as-a-hearth-fire
sun-on-the-stubblesmile

guarded us, kept cocooned,
somehow,
the solitude in which we lived.

Peter Burges

Note:   ‘sun-on-the-stubble’ is taken from Colin Thiele’s first book in the series of that title which was a childhood favourite around our log fire on Winter evenings.

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Highly Commended

Distracted

My courtyard
made over from decaying shed
and ragged garden
to posh new pavers,
while too hot in summer,
is an ambient space in autumn
swimming in a cosy warmth.
I sit and smile at the grasshopper
meditating motionless in the sun.

Towels on the line
stir in the stillness,
my thoughts drift
as I sift back through the hours
we spent together
with Norah Jones,
on the beach,
or in each others arms
awkward kisses trying
not to overstep the mark.
Given another shot I’d try
to finesse my delivery
for extra distance.
I contemplate the pleasure
and gaze at where you sat
reading in the sun.

I wonder if you’ll come again.
But when you mention sanctuary
in your goodbye hug
I think Snap!
you’ve read my mind
and hope rings out
in the distance.

In my courtyard
made over from whatevers to maybes
I ask my terracotta warrior’s opinion
but he looks straight ahead
and demurs.
Meanwhile I check my inbox
with a frequency
bordering on obsessive.

Fran Graham

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Commended

Meet Me Under the Mulberry Tree

       After Pyramus and Thisbe

Meet me under the mulberry tree
I whisper to you through the crack
in the wall of my mother’s house: your father’s house.
I drop pieces of straw, a Tai-Ching of messages;
one: stay and exchange murmurs of love;
two: words do not matter, I will listen your chest rise and fall;
three: a cross; it is time to leave, my love.

At Forest Lawn meet me
at the tomb of Bette Davis,
beneath the teeth of leaves,
the three-pronged isle of Morea.
There you will find me unbitten,
sweet and tart, hints of vanilla perfume
on my skin. My fingers and lips stained,
a pool of pulsing globular blood berries
purple-pink-magenta at my feet.

Speckled, through the light and
shade of trees, stalking, golden,
I see a mountain lion. I start and run,
she ensnares my scarf in her paw,
yet I escape, all the while thinking
of you, your breath, your chest
your heart beating through the wall.
Where are you, my love? Where?

When you arrive you find my bloodied
footprints, a torn and stained scarf, the words
of your father in your ear, “You can never have her.”
And for a moment you see how the world will end –
in an empty embrace. The sword quivers in your hands
in the scabbard, your breath a cloud.
Voices of children bounce off the tomb walls.
“Here we go round the Mulberry bush on a cold and frosty morning.”

From behind you I place my hands
over your eyes. I have eaten the lioness,
put the flesh between my teeth and
slid the berries off the stalk, declared
my love through the knife-leaves of the
tree and survived its jaws, it’s bloody echo.
I have come home to you. And we will become
a silken river and a spring.

Natalie D-Napoleon

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Commended

between ten and twelve

 

so yes, spend a few moments
upside down. tilt on that see-saw
of nontruth and unfiction. chase

a déjà-vu or two – they come
in flocks. meet no-one’s gaze – exchanges
in sight brings friction. do sonnet

breathing – in for eight, out for six.
you are the blind river, ever
feeling t’wards sea. gravity

is the friend, is the tempo.
you’re four, spinning, spinning, giddy
in sunshine. place a tape measure

around your solitude. there’s a
half-gibbous moon waiting – swim to it

Kevin Gillam

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Youth Incentive Award

Not Like the Sun

 

Her eyes are not like the sun
Their amorphous pupils are hard to see;
And still even though they are dun
In them is where I shall be

Sometimes she is my shadow
And is cajoling me into compliance
Her screeching does not flow
And yet I greet it with defiance

And some days we come together
And are two glowing stars
Burning close and lasting forever
And never being too far apart

If these two stars explode
Their omnipresent light will transgress time
Since with every supernova, a new star is widowed
But their friend, through memory, lasts a lifetime

Christopher Roque

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