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!
“Earthquake” by Julie Watts
“The Haitian Miracle Man” by Damen O’Brien
“Into the Frame” by Frances Richardson
“The Volta” by Siobhan Hodge
“After Your Mother’s Fall” by Renee Pettitt-Schipp
“At Ellensbrook” by Rose van Son
“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.
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.
“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.
Loas: the spirit/saints of Haiti
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
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
Into this frame walks a child
a female child
back to the camera
a pink parka
pale pink head scarf
She looks neither right nor left
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
Thirteen again, watching
the dust settle. A rangy grey
has ducked out of line,
in sand set soft,
it may not have
been at all.
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
a half-moon gaze
that cannot lift.
too long to braid
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.
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
no more codify your violence
than a damned horse could.
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
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