2016 Ros Spencer Prize Winners

Judge’s Report

It was my pleasure to judge the inaugural Ros Spencer Poetry Prize.  127 entries was hardly an onerous task, as I’ve judged prizes with entries in the hundreds. After a thorough read, I must say that it was difficult to select six prize-winners because most entries were of a similar standard.

The poems I finally settled on were alike in the same ways:

1) there was a central metaphor that the work adhered to;

2) very few if any abstract nouns were used;

3) there was a paucity of adjectives and/or adverbs;

4) images, when used, served the central metaphor;

5) the length of the work closely matched the amount of exploration required of the central metaphor; and

6) the close of the work did not overstate the metaphor.


“Egg” Amy Crutchfield (Vic.)

This was a succinct piece revolving around a tragic event and how a mother might perceive this. The use of language invoked in the reader that sense of loss.


“Neighbours” Jemma Payne (NSW)

This elegant and deceptively simple poem invoked two actual spaces as reflections of the author’s inner landscape. From the opening line, one is drawn in and remains until several moments after the finishing line.


 “Genealogy” Coral Carter (WA)

Brilliant piece of work!!  There were part suggestions of the identity of a stranger to someone whom might very well be someone known to the reader. Using common, unfinished idioms, the author tells the life story of this person.


 “Misspeaks” Marjorie Lewis-Jones (NSW)

A highly playful and humorous poem, it never misses a beat, never over-reaches its premise. It was one of the “tightest” pieces in the competition.


 “Vegemite” Dave Drayton (NSW)

Overall, playful and stayed with the central metaphor. It did, however, compromise its intended effect with “high diction”. This might be justified if the writer were T. S. Eliot, but this piece was not reaching for such lofty heights through elaboration of the metaphor.  (Contrary to belief, “high diction” does NOT increase the impression of intelligence when the central metaphor does not require it.)


 “Distant” Roland Leach (WA)

I did indeed find this poem “commendable”.  It seemed obvious just how much effort and consideration had been brought to bear. It was, however, compromised by its length, almost imploding with excess facts and sensory impressions. Also, the close of a poem must be the release of energy built up throughout the rest of the work, regardless of its length. If this piece were condensed, this might very well happen.

Zan Ross
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What shall the mother of the dead be called?
As widow is to wife,
what of the woman left behind?

Like a collector’s egg she sits, perfectly

Vessels defined by what they hold.
Heaven without the earth
is air.

Eyes like abandoned corridors.
Ears schooled to sounds none else can hear.

Only the moon can bring dead children home.
Shepherding them across black fields,
driving them out again at dawn.

            Amy Crutchfield
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The weeds open their hands
on the cliff that faces
my window the kind
whose shoots
pass for tomatoes grown tall
as me in summer
set fruit on flowers
I never saw their ripe wombs fall
through the washing line I find
them hollow and
light as paper
lanterns. All that’s mine

is inside this
window that the tall weeds watch
and a fish lives on
my bookcase
threatening reflections
in his glass

            Jemma Louise Payne
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you know him
went to school with
over there at
tall red hair
sometimes grew a beard
lives down on
used to go out with
she dumped him
then married the girl of
had a son who plays for
his mother not quite all
father worked all his
lives down there by
next to the woman who
dyes her hair pink
always wore
rode on her
wanted to go to
played football with
got into a bit of
as a young man
was apprenticed to
his boss said he was
then worked for
later retrenched
moved to town
came back
used to drink down there at
related to those
his cousin married one
one door down from
on the corner
down the road from
next to
the family of
in the purple house
his wife used to be a
related to the
four kids
she worked up at
one hung himself
a daughter married a
bit of a nut
in the TAB
spent his life at
every saturday
they said he was
you know him
you would know him
if you saw him
it was him
he was the one who
cousin of
best mates with
took his grandkids to
they said
ran away with
the bloke next door
you know him.

            Coral Carter
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I misspeak
a bit
these days
leaning in
to grab
an ‘s’
a ‘t’
‘You live in
your head
too much’
a woman
told me
she couldn’t
find it—
the locked
with light
the owls
on their
each perch
to a pole
each wing
trailing a
or a
if I’m
or misspeaking
or Miss Peking it
I’m just
a bit

            Marjorie Lewis-Jones
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twilight primers                                                                 offer confidence
to digest folly                                                                   and project wings


and                                                                                                     you like
from chin-ups                                                                             a sandwich


you look like                                                                     nobody owns you
teenage calamity                                                      under this or any roof


belittled kite                                                                       afraid of heights
destroys a cupboard                                                                kept indoors

some assaults

plinth and pillory                                                                    forced colony
renew lifelong coronal                                        with weathered compost

our land

should have no                                                               tax for occupation
younger folly wrought                                                    by bony thimbles

force it
face it

older bathwater groans                                   makeup melts somewhere
we’re willing growth                                                             so it is hidden

shoppers candour
offers canned

coupons cut                                      (&/or                                    cashed in
what you would  do                                                     to save a little more

that remains uncharted

by this dictum

of engraving surplus

         Dave Drayton
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He was a distant man,
knew the mathematical
possibilities of distance,

and measured others
in coordinates,
as if they were solids

in abstract theorising,
maps reduced to two-
dimensional space.

He learnt the art of
locating an object

without getting close.
With people he allowed
distance, working angles

till he calculated
their point on the map,
their place beyond, keeping

their cartography
shelved on parchment.


A planet can transit the face
of sun in the matter of hours.
Plymouth to Tahiti took Cook

eight months, using hourglasses, knotted
ropes to measure speed, sextants
and stars to measure longitude.

He came to HParadise, seventeen
degrees South, 149 West.
As far from home on a globe

as he could conceive, as far
from the village where he would have
become his father. But the coastal

town of Whitby set his course:
the continual shifting and sliding,
ebb and flow of tide, the peaks, hollows

of swell that would allow him
to slip free the self moored tiresomely to land.


The entrance into the harbour
was little more than a mile wide
where you had to keep to the south shore
close to a small bare island,
where the water’s a good six fathoms.

There was a fine stream on the north shore,
plenty of wood. The trees much the same,
a few shrubs, low and wooded
for as far as we could see,
and great cockatoos, parrots
and lorikeets were heard everywhere.

On the mud banks oysters,
mussels and cockles.
The natives a very dark brown,
not black, without the frizzy
hair of islanders.
The women wore few ornaments.
did little to hide their nudity,
Some paint their faces with pigment.
Roast shellfish, leave stingray.

Having seen everything
this place afforded
we at daylight put to sea.

            Roland Leach
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