2016 Ros Spencer Prize Winners

Judge: Zan Ross


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.






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





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





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





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





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







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