Winners of the 2017 DP/ BB Writers Festival Poetry Prize

August 10, 2017  |  Uncategorized

On Saturday, we celebrated the winners of the poetry prize with music by the quintet, Eclecticus and a rousing reading by Heather Taylor Johnson, the judge of the competition. Our first prize went to Nola Firth of Murwillumbah.  Second prize was Jacqueline Trott from Mudgee.

The winning poems can be read here along with the Judge’s Report.  We  begin with a few words from Heather Taylor Johnson, the judge of this competition:

Poetry makes sense of the world we live in: the tangible, edible, combustible world of 7 ½ billion people and many more animals, and also the inner world of our quiet, sometimes raging selves. Consider the times; consider our leaders. These are distrustful days. We’re faced with a new accusation of ‘fake news’ so often that it’s become an everyday punch line, the conundrum of it never getting old. We need poetry to better understand truth, so that we can separate it from the lies.

The poems submitted to this year’s Dangerously Poetic- Byron Writers Festival Poetry Prize aim to do just that. I found the more successful poems didn’t directly mention the words ‘truth’ or ‘lie’ and try to find a definition for them, but rather presented a snapshot of the places where the world around us and the world within us come together and let this year’s theme of ‘truth and lies’ trickle down through the reading.

I want to commend Jacqueline Trott for her poem ‘One Hundred Eyes’. So much depends on rain, and through a series of rhyming quatrains, the rain’s fickleness is noted.

The winning poem is thematically aggressive, though stylistically it’s playful. It tackles war, religion, social injustice and the environment by showing us a typical neighbourhood. The poet notes the numbers of op-shops and the number of currawongs calling ‘from red seeded chandeliers’ and questions her place within the neighbourhood and thus, within the world. ‘Questioning’ is often positioning things side by side and separating personal truths from lies, so it’s a clever take on the theme and there are some ripper lines in it. But most importantly, upon reading it, I, too, questioned my place within the neighbourhood, and within my own neighbourhood, and, thus, within our world. I’m happy to award ‘Counting on Murwillumbah’  by Nola Firth first place in the Dangerously Poetic- Byron Writers Festival Poetry Prize. 

ONE HUNDRED EYES   by Jacqueline Trott   2nd Prize

                                                                                                                                                                                             

One hundred eyes track skies waiting for her

Aching under a sadistic sun

Followed by night with dusty shrouds

Of stars pitiless in shining hum

 

The earth here rusts in thick scabby folds

Where burrowing ants suck and drain

Swarms of soldiers in a tiny war

Parasites lust-drunk on bloodstain

 

The land sits in silent apocalypse

The lambs have all stopped bleating

The children have gone who played here once

In rubbles of broken fence line and tin sheeting

 

Amongst the twiggy, spartan leaves

Birds perch, wide-eyed, open-mouth

In the anorexic shade of the bony trees

Songs stolen from beaks, poached by drought

 

Insects thud and throb in beat

Cranked on a tuneless gramophone

Their tone-deaf circus warped in heat

The mad soundtrack of a lunatic drone

 

Weeping willows kneel, the wattle is mute

Exhausted hills heave and sigh

Withered hands of skeletal branches

Sway in pilgrim prayer to the sky

 

See the town dwellers as they sweat together

In cathedrals of eucalypt

Mumbling praise and wobbling cracked hymns

Through brows of perspiration-drip

 

Begging for signs, chins heaven faced

Crusting psalms in mutters and moans

The heavy air sticks their lungs to ribs

And lodges in throats dry paddock stones

 

She comes on the wind, weaving hair clouds

In cloudy piles of soft braids

An angel face to all those men

Who crumble an existence from the red-dirt trades

 

Today she totes potions, a shaman healer

For fevers and skin blister-burned

She whispers to their hacking chests

And swollen tongues choking on spittle spurned

 

Tonight she waits for her younglings to sleep

Balming dreams over yellow-stained sheets

She will dance her fingertips in lullaby pattern

Across rooves of corrugated iron pleats

 

She is the mother of blessing and curse

Her name etched in desert and snow-frost

The first peoples dance to herald her coming

The last survivors will mourn her loss.

Rain.

First Prize

 

Counting on Murwillumbah   by Nola Firth

With homage to Kevin Brophy’s poem ‘Numbering’

 

3 police cars chase a Holden down Main Street,

lacing our life with sirens, burning rubber and risk.

 

An older battle platform, a grey plank, is wedged into a dead tree trunk in the park.

Here we are to remember that pioneers with balance and crosscut saws tamed ‘the big scrub’.

 

Cheers rang out as each straight, 2000 year old, red gold pole fell.

And fell. All gone in 30 years.

 

Opportunity is still sought. There are 5 opportunity shops in town and the homeless man sleeping in a red car on the reserve tells us that the snakes and spiders are out now.

 

Regardless, that night we eat at one of 3 Indian restaurants in the street under orange fairy lights. 3 children, laughing, push each other in a supermarket trolley past the restaurant along the nearby empty pavement.

 

2 streets away the Sikh temple’s cupolas glow. Their school notice board says truth is self knowledge. The nearby Anglican church fete sells coconut ice in tiny, handmade paper baskets.

 

Blessings arrive from 2 more directions. The Hare Krishna temple, just out of town, has a golden cow guarding us all.  The Austral café also welcomes us into its pale blue 1950s booths

 

And 4 currawongs call from red seeded chandeliers that drip from the Bangalow palms.

The carpet snake that lives in the roof of the old Queenslander is not so blessed.

 

He took a kitten in his huge embrace and ate it. ‘Relocation’ will be his punishment.

Will he, original dweller, find his way home?

 

7 brush turkeys parade through my backyard, seemingly unsurprised by life and the big black vertical tail that follows their every step.

 

They live on the hill under the camphor laurels, the weed trees, non-natives, new residents, like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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