13 January 2006

The Write Stuff Poetry Competition Judge's Report

RESULTS: 1st PRIZE "Headless Portrait of a Pregnant Woman" by Esther Ottaway (Tasmania)
2nd PRIZE "To Set Out on a Journey" by Rebecca Edwards (Queensland)
Highly commended: "A Van Diemen's Land Inheritance" by Graeme Hetherington, (Australian poet now living in the Czech Republic)
and also highly commended: "Dementia Ward" by Rebecca Edwards (Queensland)

The Write Stuff Poetry Competition Judge’s Report
(STEPHEN EDGAR)


I recall that in one of the conversations between Peter Porter and Clive James that Jill Kitson has broadcast on Book Talk on ABC Radio National over the past few years, Peter Porter expressed his opinion, which I am merely paraphrasing from memory, that among beginning poets the ones he would put his money on for ultimate success are those who can do something original and remarkable with language, even if what they are currently writing is muddled and obscure. Poetry, in other words resides more in the language than in the sentiments expressed. If the overwhelming bulk of entries in this year’s competition seemed to me unsatisfactory as poetry it is because I searched them in vain for evidence of vital, memorable language. I might not comment on this at all, had I not been so struck by the number of people who chose to enter a poetry competition without apparently grasping that it is language, used powerfully and originally, which can lift worthy sentiments into poetry, not vice versa.

But nevertheless a reasonable minority of the entries commanded my attention and a short list of six, later reduced to four, virtually chose itself. My decision ultimately came down to two poems, 'Headless Portrait of a Pregnant Woman' and 'To Set Out on a Journey'. At last I awarded the prize to 'Headless Portrait' because of its authoritative command of form and tone, its arresting and inventive use of language and its estranging and slightly disturbing insights into the condition of pregnancy. But 'To Set Out on a Journey' too is an impressive sequence; I found it a moving poem with a satisfying correspondence between its themes and the quiet-spoken stillness and clarity of its language and imagery. However, it is not quite fully achieved, I think, and tails off slightly at the end. It receives the second prize.

Highly commended are 'A Van Diemen’s Land Inheritance' and 'Dementia Ward'. The title of the second of these no doubt sufficiently points to the horrors of its content, the more potently expressed for being understated. The first of them also portrays a kind of madhouse in its evocation of a childhood on Tasmania's west coast and the scars left by it on the author's psyche. Both of these poems impressed me.
(STEPHEN EDGAR, JANUARY 2006; Judging The Write Stuff literary competitions 2005 poetry section)

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