BLAKE POETRY PRIZE 2017 JUDGES COMMENTARY
Ruth’s Sisters: Alice Allen
A series of well-written couplets, coursing the ancient tale of love, that arises unexpected from tragedy. The poem considers if faith is borne of this, and from faith a certitude of the future.
A Poet’s Age-Old Lament: Davoren Howard
This remarkable poem, a lyric rant against the inhumanity of Australia’s policy of mandatory detention of refugees, is a sophisticated acrostic. Down its left margin run the words of part of a political statement (that of the Labor Government from 2008) never accepted into law or policy, and arguing for a humane treatment that contemplated the risk to the self and mental health of asylum seekers if they were, as they now are, detained. The poem runs a powerful, insistent reflection of childhood and trauma and the role of poetry across long lines, each beginning with the next word from that policy. Obsessive and relentless but eloquent and passionate. It concludes with these words, which make the case for poetry’s ennobling, humanising, redemptive work:
“The poem, striving to unseat such an elusive monster through nurture’s ever-present gaze, paints
Human dilemma with a palette bold enough to spark recognition from within, a covert call to each
Person in the wider community to map the self through wider commonalities.”
What Happens: Stephen Denham
What Happens is an accomplished existential musing that taps in to our universal apprehension about the unknown: a musing as terrible as hellfire. The trinity of the father, son and holy ghost are mirrored in this poem by the child narrator, his clergyman father, and the unknown world which the boy seeks answers about. The poet has managed, with very few words, to manifest lively characters who walk a wavering line between skepticism and belief.
Agatha: Libby Hart
Agatha is a disturbing and profound meditation on a woman’s ability to control her own life, her own body, and her own narrative. The poem speaks at once of death and resistance – of determination and despair. The indifference conjured in the final lone sentence, the image of a man witnessing unspeakable violence with an air of indifference, is as delicate as it is explosive. And all the while, he kept his eyes on the small fire that you made.
Memory after Memory: Chris Lynch
Memory after Memory is a rare thing—a lyric language poem. Its sense always elusive, its language grounds it in the world of sense and connection with all living things, where it seems to want us, without leaving our minds behind, and their tendencies to want to shut out the “ladle & mare, cay & the manta ray… the cyclone & cenote… the whole wailing & keeling of the Universe…” out (“can’t you hear it?”) “Bow down at the wounded/ Mound of the mind. Enter it”: it commands. Though whose mind? The mind of all things? The mind of Creation? One’s own? The poem is wealthy as a universe, as a place on earth, in language, and in abstractions (Meiosis. Metastasis….Homophone & Metamorphosis…”) and in words for actual world, played back out of our languaging minds and into their own dance of confusion and holy order, through the poet’s daring devices of form. There is terror in this poem, and there is delight. There is “button up your blouse There is in this poem an “accepting, if not delighting, in ruthless/ Fact” There is a very Blakean invitation to remember the contradictions, the Hell and the Heaven, the joy and the woe of a human life well lived. There is an invitation to dance with truth, and slough off illusion. And the close is the most perfect image of that acceptance: “Silence, lucid…rice paddies drink the sky.”
Winter, Seed-Time, Harvest: Frances Olive
A well-formed metaphysical monologue, a beauteous acclamation of mankind’s malediction of presence and endurance, and destructive manner. As the poet leads us through the seasons arrive at a 'festival of dangerous prediction'. Is it a celebration or a memorial? The reader can decide.
Caravaggio’s “Crucifixion of Peter”: Kim Waters
Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St Peter deftly turns our attention to Saint Peter, hanging next to Christ on the cross…nailed to a half-raised beam / Who asked to be crucified upside-down / In order not to rival the son of God. The viewing of the saint through the lens of Caravaggio’s work creates a powerful fracturing of time and event which traverses the crucifixion, the painting of the work, the reception of the work, and the viewing of the work.