2017 Ros Spencer Poetry Prize Winners

Judge’s Report 2017

It’s been a great pleasure for me to read close to 200 poems, and to find that there were a dozen or more that really impressed me. It’s a hoary cliché, but it truly was difficult choosing prizes and commendations, and what I rated as the top seven or eight were all very similar in quality.  The pieces I chose were merely the poems that stayed in my consciousness for the longest periods of time, and, like any act of judging were undeniably based in subjective taste.  What this means, essentially, is that if your piece wasn’t chosen here, dear poet, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a lesser poem at all!  Whoever you are, don’t be put off, keep writing, and keep entering as many competitions as you can afford!  Lack of recognition toughens you up a bit, and public acclaim is only one kind of success, after all…Congratulations to those whose poems were chosen, and to all who entered.

Thank you to W.A Poets Inc. for the opportunity to be a part of this, and best wishes to all involved in the 2017 Perth Poetry Festival!

Matt Hetherington

 

Winner

“Earthquake” by Julie Watts

Runner Up

“The Haitian Miracle Man” by Damen O’Brien

Highly Commended

“Into the Frame” by Frances Richardson

“The Volta” by Siobhan Hodge

Commended

“After Your Mother’s Fall” by Renee Pettitt-Schipp

“At Ellensbrook” by Rose van Son

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 Winner

“Earthquake” by Julie Watts

“Earthquake” is a quietly musical and deeply evocative depiction of a dramatic natural disaster, in what I take to be a 20th century convent environment, as well being a subtle meditation on memory and faith.  With only the ‘thrown net’ of its cadences, it holds us ‘steady and close’ to become witness to what has occurred, and its power is in its understatement. It is also a wonderful poem in the way in which it maintains focus on the particulars of the scene but which, without didacticism, creates gentle aftershocks in the psyche well after the poem is finished. And like all good poems, it knows exactly the right spot to finish.

 

Earthquake

 

the doors to the balcony are closed.

in the summer hush, I hear

 

the rustle of their habits, black and musky

crucifixes at their hips, tapping through

 

the afternoon as they walk the classroom

arms folded under scapulars, all doors to

 

the balcony closed, sounds hushed – only

their slow foot-falls on the oiled floorboards

 

the Virgin in prayer high on the mantlepiece.

she will fall and smash in the Meckering

 

earthquake and Mother Florence will have

us praying, heads bowed as the balcony sways

 

and dips, as the Virgin shakes and dives, as

the doors buckle and the railing tips. We will

 

leave as the ceiling plaster falls, two by two

in slow-fated file, Mother Florence a black

 

crow, white-eyed and black-winged, following

the last girl stepping in time to the beaded

 

rosary of her thumbs, as the ground skews

and the stained glass windows split, she will hold

 

us steady and close on the dark convent stairs

with only the thrown net of her cadence.

 

Julie Watts

 

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Runner Up

“The Haitian Miracle Man” by Damen O’Brien

“The Haitian Miracle Man” is also centered around a natural disaster, though this one is perhaps more man-made, being a narrative based in collapsed buildings in a Port-au-Prince slum. Like the spirits/saints it gestures towards, the poem shrouds itself in a kind of seductive mystery, with some outlandish yet appropriate metaphors, and a thread of haunting, provocative imagery. It is a close to something like a short film in 21 lines, which increases in explicit force as it simplifies itself towards its end, and it’s a piece that rewards many readings.

 

 

The Haitian Miracle Man

 

Under the escher rubble of Port-au-Prince

gravity’s screw turns in increments of pain,

coring the present cleanly from the past.

Evans Monsignac folds in that suspension,

pressed in the wafer circuit of time’s machine,

distilled in the olive pressing, drop by drop.

27 days after the slum collapsed into its code violations,

and entombed him and wombed him at one stroke,

Evans Monsignac will be pulled out emaciated.

Until then, the rubble works on him as it may,

shifting and paring him in a remorseless vice.

He will discover, as his fellow prisoners learnt

that are now dark and silent constellations strung

ambiguously around him in a splay of buildings,

that nothing can be called upon to stop the weight;

that no force can deter his stubborn lungs

from sifting air out of the weeping cracks;

that all the inquisitive spirits settling overhead,

Baron Samedhi and the other Loas in their masks and feathers,

cannot help his body die.  He lies in hospital for a week,

man’s reluctant miracle, and returns to his vacant streets

soon after.  He has escaped but he was never free.

 

Damen O’Brien

Loas: the spirit/saints of Haiti

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 Highly Commended

Into the Frame

 

This picture is nothing new

an explosion to the left of the frame

Today the attack is in Damascus

The image moves

depicts the mayhem

buildings in ruins

detritus covering the roadway

Men run and stumble in all directions

some, presumably, into the action

from a road to the right

 

The voice-over

without passion

prescribes who and why

 

A stretcher carried upright

is ferried left

someone is carried away

on the shoulder of possibly a friend

This, we have seen, too frequently

            except that

Into this frame walks a child

a female child

back to the camera

wearing jeans

a pink parka

pale pink head scarf

pink backpack

 

She looks neither right nor left

walking fast

through scrambling men

 

She crosses the road

disappears behind a group

of crouching youths

then reappears again

her step unvaried

before she disappears

from the frame

 

Frances Richardson

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 Highly Commended

 The Volta

 

Thirteen again, watching

the dust settle. A rangy grey

has ducked out of line,

drawn thin

in sand set soft,

it may not have

been at all.

I remember

no slight that widely

provoked your ire.

Primed between a line

and rod, I am only dull

witness to your assault.

 

The rope is chucked, hiss

belly-deep.

Hooves circulate

a half-moon gaze

that cannot lift.

Wilted mane

too long to braid

gummed flat

with sweat. And stilt

his fearful pace,

how it stirs

your crop, antenna in electrical

storm now a snake,

squat and spoiling.

Just try it, mate.

 

Most children recoiled,

your shoulders slick in rigid

certainty.                                              Show’m who’s boss

or some such grouse, inked

by time, I have not seen

more tenderness than mane.

I see him stilled,

lacquered lean by sweat.

The whip

didn’t speak, your face alone

struck him down, each trembled ear

swivelling inward. Not this

battery of energy,

crackling, shorting out,

pinioned between shed

and eye that would not yield

infinitesimal ground

for error.

 

I will

no more codify your violence

than a damned horse could.

 

Siobhan Hodge

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Commended

After Your Mother’s Fall

 

after your mother’s fall we returned to collect her things

a toothbrush   a nightdress   a worn brown purse

her teeth wrapped in tissue by the sink

 

gone a long time    front door was more like a portal

place a palimpsest of summers – our daughter crawling   walking

absent     crowd of photos quiet under dust

 

all was paused     no birds in bath under tree

fruit unmoving in bowl     her day’s half-finished

sentence    the light leaned in

 

you packed her bag and the house

held its breath

 

driving back rays were undone

by a heavy sky     its troubled light

 

sun floundered    sank

diminished     at the bay we turned

to watch it fall

 

in the dunes five kangaroos

nest of crow in bones of branch

our skin alive in sharp wind

 

nearing home we drove in darkness

drove in silence   her packed bag small

good clothes hanging and zipped nylon-tight

 

shock of owl sudden and ghost-white

lit for a moment in headlights     beat

of our animal hearts     the millimetres in missing

 

Renee Pettitt-Schipp

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Commended

At Ellensbrook

Here come the thundering clouds

breaking the world apart – Susan Hawthorne

 

Ellen didn’t mean for it to be like this–

hollow land, where creek runs

past her white-washed wall

mulberry tree bare now, summer’s

fruit spat along the path, road’s

end engaged, the waterwheel

dismantled now rust has taken over

top layer firms the ground

 

kangaroos have trod the old stone floor

made the verandah home for when it rains

when clouds crack open and lightening storms

the solitude.  She wonders if Grace has picked

a bunch of Easter lilies, pressed them to her

chest    taken in before the rain.

 

Rose van Son

 

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