JUDGE’S CHOICES – 2020 COMPETITION – Joy in the morning
My Grandfather’s Blessing – Toni Brisland
How Joy Arises – Scott-Patrick Mitchell
How You Begin – Nicole Melanson
Instructions Before Forgetting – Eunice Andrada
(Poems listed in alphabetical order)
After the smoke – Avril Bradley
A Simpler Time – David Terelinck
Clarion at Dawn – Colleen Maranda
Currawong – Janeen Samuel
Eagle – Ruari Jack Hughes
Equivocal – Helen Cerne
Gannet – Janeen Samuel
Ghazal – Nola Firth
Morning Cuppa – Stefan Dubczuk
Morning rituals Avril Bradley
My Kintsugi – Carolyn Ingvarson
Newells Paddock – Richenda
Not Joy – Kerry Harte
Ode to Joy – Stefan Dubczuk
Regime – Elena Healy
Spring Rapture – Kate O’Neil
Sunrise – Margaret Campbell
The International Space Station – Chris Ringrose
The theophany of trees – Cathy Altmann
Voices in Stone – John Egan
Winter Mornings – Tim Collins
2020 JUDGE’S REPORT – Joy in the morning
The theme ‘Joy in the morning’ attracted numerous poems with either ‘joy’ or ‘morning’ or both in the title. Many of these were similar, celebrating the start of a new day as a time of hope or resurrection, and used familiar Easter tropes of dawn, the sun rising. A good number of poems celebrated early morning bird calls, especially as prompting joy in the hearer. Anzac Day, the dreadful Spring-Summer 2019-2020 bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic each entered the entries. There were memorable lines and music in many of the poems that did not reach the shortlist. In selecting a short list, what I looked for were approaches to the theme that brought some originality or insight beyond the well-loved trope of daybreak as a kind of daily taste of Easter morning, poems that used imagery in interesting ways and showed evidence of poetic craft even if not achieved perfectly.
I will make a few comments on each poem in the shortlist, before turning to the final four. ‘After the smoke’ brings together human vulnerability and need for solace with the fate of a baby kookaburra after the fires; subtly, the poet situates joy in the midst of tragedy in a shared instinct for survival. ‘A Simpler Time’ holds its central them of milk throughout the poem, as it points to a capacity for joy in the work of providing and receiving sustenance. ‘Clarion at Dawn’ is an eight-line poem, juxtaposing war and dawn; what attracted me to this short rhyming poem was the way it echoes Auden, for example, parts of ‘For the Time Being’. ‘Currawong’, another short poem, in its repetitions and reminders to me of Judith Wright and William Blake, is a skilfully wrought evocation of the joy of the bird itself. ‘Eagle’ strongly builds its picture of a majestic bird in flight; then, as the poet intervenes to interpret the eagle’s sharing in the place and purpose of things, the bird gradually disappears from ‘sight’. In its description, ‘Eagle’ suggests without spelling out the theme of joy. ‘Equivocal’ offers a unique and poignant perspective on grief, through the trope of dreaming of loved ones who are deceased, ending ‘I woke more or less with joy’. Another short poem ‘Gannet’ deftly poses a question about the way the poet’s relation to the bird they are watching calls forth joy.
‘Ghazal’, as its title suggests, takes the form of a ghazal, with its repetitions and shifts, and does this with a depth that invites reflection on miracles missed, even as the imagery the poet chooses acknowledges the way trauma and the everyday intersect. ‘Morning Cuppa’ appeals in the way it describes loss through the image of an old red sock found in a mug under the sink; the way an object associated with a beloved can call forth both grief and joy. The second line of ‘Morning rituals’, ‘she wakes in the space of herself’, signals the strength of the voice in this poem which builds its picture of the beginnings of a day in pleasing imagery, closing with a woman bringing day back into the house with the scent of crushed lavender on her fingers. ‘My Kintsugi’ is a narrative poem that folds together family heritage and loss, evoking joy in a mending that honours its scars. ‘Newells Paddock’ describes a morning scene with attractive imagery, flowing deftly toward its beautiful final image. A series of questions, in the poem ‘Not Joy’, provokes the reader to consider situations in which ‘joy in the morning’ stands together with its opposite; the rhythm and repetitions that mark this poem call forth a kind of joy in the act of witness and response to suffering and injustice.
Humorously, ‘Ode to Joy’ offers a pandemic lockdown perspective on a neighbour’s daily music practice and the anticipated (longed-for) excess of a return to both peace and choral singing. ‘Regime’, as I read it, is a bleak poem of domestic abuse, where joy can be fleeting, requiring moments of safety for joy to arrive. A narrative poem, ‘Spring Rapture’, ably tells of a moment of gifts given and re-given. With lines like ‘The day is fresh lemonade’, ‘Sunrise’ offers an attractive exposition of the common themes of morning freshness and birdsong. In ‘The International Space Station’, the poet imagines that astronauts dream of Earth, and juxtaposes the idea that, while people might seem to be closer to the divine on satellites beyond our planetary atmosphere, there is solace in our everyday embeddedness in Earth. ‘The theophany of trees’ is a beautifully realised poem of natural revelation as divine revelation. ‘Voices in Stone’, in two complementary stanzas, evokes the cathedral stone setting of Bach’s choral Mass in B Minor and in so doing suggests a crossing between religious architecture and religious music as sites of joy. ‘Winter Mornings’ has an engaging movement that suggest seasons, the change of seasons and our responses to them are a kind of ‘yes’; the language is simple, yet expressions like ‘autumning herself ready’ evoke for me Gerard Manley Hopkins.
It is always difficult to choose one poem among dozens of dozens, and I mention two before coming to the runner-up and winning poems. ‘How You Begin’ is a poem I read many times, with its simple morning scene told through images in one long stanza before a single line on its own and then the spare three line finale celebrating a moment of conception, where the final ‘you’ also echoes as an address of prayer. ‘Instructions Before Forgetting’ is another poem that repaid multiple readings: a poignant narrative and counter-narrative of love, grief, longing, and the joy embedded in the everyday living of these.
The runner-up ‘How Joy Arises’ is a prose poem. Again I read this poem many times, and what kept me coming back were not only the shifts of imagery but the way the poet brings in concepts like glory, the angelic and prayer, avoiding clichés by claiming the words, for example, ‘We could use a word like glory, and we shall’. There are subtle shifts on each claiming that keep the reader interested, and by the time I reach the closing line, although it is a kind of telling rather than showing, I am convinced. The flow of the poem, its stops and its intentional imperfect grammar all add to its work as an argument for joy and holiness, that is not far off but here.
The winner ‘My Grandfather’s Blessing’ is a sustained narrative poem which builds its story through a weaving of imagery appropriate to fishing labour like the weaving of the fishing nets themselves. The imagery is lush but not overdone. The poet’s love of their Nonno is clear in the careful attention to detail; in this detail is the joy of relation. The spare inclusion of Italian dialect assists in creating the deep sense of place and persons. The poem closes with an evocation not only of the grandfather’s legacy, when he calls the poet your Nonno’s blood, but also with a frisson of the hardiness and cost of a life of labour spent well.
Congratulations to all the poets, and thank you for the opportunity to read your work.
13 July 2020
JUDGE’S CHOICES – 2019 COMPETITION – Love’s footprint
Motherlode – David Terelinck
A Wake for Amy – Kerry Harte
(poems listed in alphabetical order)
Clan Call – Robert Reid
Even Though We Are Half a Universe Apart – Rhonda Poholke
Galleries – Judyth Keighran
Heather – Toni Brisland
Invisible Print – Valerie Volk
Love’s Footprint – Eve Norton McGlashan
Nexus – Suzi Mezei
Nous ne sommes pas un couple – Jacqueline Law
Now That He’s Gone – Janeen Samuel
Que je t’aime – Joan Ray
Renewal – Robert Reid
Returning – Janeen Samuel
The Gardener’s Love – Clare-Louise Grace Watson
The Rhythm Line – Tim Collins
The Sweetest Moment – Vivien de Jong
The Tracking Harness – Joan Ray
These Reductions ̶ Tru S Dowling
Things That Kept You Alive – Charles D’Anastasi
Trimester – Suzi Mezei
Unblemished – Pamela Heemskerk
We – Bethany Evans
We Are Dog Lovers – Vivien de Jong
Wheatfield Wind –Marilyn Humbert
2019 JUDGE’S REPORT – Love’s footprint
Acting as Judge for the 2019 Poetica Christi Poetry Prize, and reading the more than 200 entries, has been a rewarding experience, and an emotional one. This year’s theme was ‘Love’s Footprint’. As one might expect, this drew writers into complex and emotionally-charged territory, as they reflected on lost love, fulfilment, betrayal and joy. It also produced poems that tracked loved ones through a lifetime’s relationship, even to death and mourning. The elegies, of which there were many, celebrated love in all its forms – parental, filial, marital, deep friendship. At the same time, poems deriving from the other end of life: pregnancy, birth, childhood and the fracturing of relationships with children, were also strongly represented. The cumulative effect of these meditations was at times almost overwhelming, and confirmed one’s sense that poetry remains the art form to which people turn at significant moments in their life – to read for consolation, or to through which explore their own thoughts and feelings. They also recalled Wordsworth’s observation that poetry derives from emotion recollected in tranquillity – except that many of this year’s Poetica Christi poems were clearly written out of the rawness of current experience.
Caught up on the tide of emotion and feeling, one had to remind oneself that these were competition entries, and that there had to be a winner and a runner-up, as well as poems selected for inclusion in Poetica Christi’s excellent annual anthology. So, the intensity needed to be embodied in appropriate language and form. The search for poems of this kind made one aware of certain features. The first was musicality, whether harsh or harmonious. Many powerful stories tended to be told in relatively flat terms that resembled prose, whereas the best of the entries exploited the music of their phrases and free verse lines, or handled meter so assuredly that one felt the pulse of the lines as having a certain inevitability. The second was the impact of the image, whether of a sharply-described sensory impression, or a metaphorical comparison that made you see things as though for the first time. It’s not always possible to avoid stock phrases or over-familiar comparisons, but those writers who managed to do this often lit up the page with images that remained in one’s mind well after the page was turned. The third element was structure. The competition allows for a maximum of 50 lines, and such a generous line limit is always inviting for poets. We want to use up our quota, and write to the limit. Sometimes this meant that good poems could have been even better if they had been edited down, and repetition minimized. Furthermore, the longer entries needed to have a certain structure or architecture that allowed for development of ideas, rather than repetition. The better long poems took us on a one-page journey, with new vistas revealed at certain points.
The shortlist of potential prize winners was impressive and diverse. It is impossible to refer to all them in detail, but readers of the Poetica Christi anthology will find poignant yet quietly understated reflections on the illness of a loved one, many accounts of love affairs raging from the seeming casual and down-to-earth to full-blown and unabashed romanticism, and poems that offer new, surprising images of a baby in the womb. The story of Mary Magdalene naturally attracted some writers, while others meditated on the old age of a parent, or the ever-changing relationships between parents, grandparents and children. The idea of ‘love’s footprint’ led many to write in the traditional genres of elegy and love poem, reminding us that the variations on the experience of grief and passion are infinite. I particularly liked those that were grounded in a particular moment, memory or situation. Love’s footprints were manifested in landscape paintings, family photographs, and the intense relationships traced by the patterns made by figure skaters. Lost love, the divine presence and nostalgia for home were traced through different approaches to landscape. There was a welcome touch of humour, too, in poems which drew significance from less obviously profound experiences (like walking the dog), or the latent humour from darker events.
One could only admire the ingenious and diverse ways in which the poets responded to the competition’s theme. Poetica Christi encourages poetry that explores the spiritual aspects of life, whether in a Christian or broader way, and there was no difficulty in selecting a wide range of poems that responded to this invitation while still exploiting the many possibilities of the poetic voice and retaining a sense of individuality.
In the end there had to be a competition winner and a runner-up.
As second prize winner for 2019, “A Wake for Amy” is a gem. A poem should surprise and move you, and this one certainly does, from its intriguing opening (the decision to represent the feet of a dead baby on a cake) to the emotional turmoil of the retreat from the cake-decorating shop, represented in the final lines. “A Wake for Amy” is full of vivid images (such as the cotton candy, the arrival of the shop assistant, and Dad’s tapping fingers). It plays off pathos against accurate observations. Footprints are present here, certainly. As is love.
“Motherlode” was awarded first prize. This is a poem that starts off at an angle, as it discusses education and the past, before leading us into the experience of having a premature baby, and the way that puts one’s ‘preparedness’ in the shade. Its effectiveness derives in part from the way it is built up stanza by stanza, gathering emotional intensity, since the final images — umbilical cords morphing into monitor leads, and tubes tethering the baby to the crib – are the most striking. The reference to the “too-new-world” into which the baby emerges is very touching. As is, of course, the ache in the final lines.
Chris Ringrose – July 2019
JUDGE’S CHOICES – 2018 COMPETITION – Interludes
True North – Rosalyn Black
A walk with ghosts – Joan Ray
(poems listed in alphabetical order)
After the funeral – Valerie Volk
Between homes – Kerry Harte
Birth in a peace zone – Kerry Harte
Bonding – Joan Ray
Camino Primitivo – Christopher Ringrose
Celestial conjunction – Gwendolyn Doumit
Cloud formations – Cathy Altmann
Convalescence − Tru S Dowling`
Dune shadows – Mary Jones
Gumnut garden – Ellen Shelley
Inter-lude – Valerie Volk
Into freedom – Colleen Maranda
Melbourne September 2017 – Wendy Fleming
Moving on – Tru S Dowling
Numero uno – Melinda Kallasmae
Sanctuary – Veronica Lake
Seeing is believing – Ruth Richmond
Thirty Seconds with Vanessa Kershawi – Christopher Ringrose
Thynia – Cathy Altmann
Trans – Avril Bradley
Waiting – Rosalyn Black
Women like us – Cathy Altmann
Your song – Gavin Austin
2018 JUDGE’S REPORT – INTERLUDES
Judging the Judge
Some years ago, I was invited to join with a group of two other judges to award the national poetry book award for a collection of poems to be announced at Writers’ Week in South Australia – with a very rich prize. There were about thirty books of poetry entered. I can’t recall any of the collections not being eligible for the shortlisting of six by all three judges. We met many times, argued, agreed, and finally went away to shortlist initially and then later to come up with an overall winner. There were no second prizes. The three shortlists were not identical. The three books chosen ultimately for the first prize were all different – although those same three books appeared in each shortlist.
I remember well that last meeting when we all agreed that all three collections were not only made up of excellent well-made poems but superb anthologies of those same poems. What we argued about until well after midnight was quite simply the emotional element. In other words how these poems touched our hearts and minds. One of the collections followed the theme of birth, another the natural world and the third a collection of contemporary prayers or meditations.
Harold Bloom the eminent American literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University has commented in one of his many books ‘We read poems to find ourselves’. Any individual sitting on (invited) judgement on others poems must firstly determine that they are all well made and whether traditional or modern do not falter when it comes to the integral elements of poetry. For example, the poems should not contain prolix, sentimentality, mixed or ludicrous metaphors, etc.).
The poems chosen here are all well-made and some are superb. The winner and runner up were the latter but in addition, had a profound emotional impact on me.
2018 Annual Poetry Competition – Interludes
JUDGE’S CHOICES – 2017 COMPETITION – Wonderment
Flight of the Monarchs – Avril Bradley
Ink – Gabrielle Rowe
Two-sided coin – Valerie Volk
The colour of music – Margaret Ferrell
Rayonnement – Gwendolyn Doumit
Sleeping in Sturt’s Stony Desert – Sue Grocke
Summer Peaches – Anne Cook
Illumination – Gabrielle Rowe
Apollo 8 – Nola Passmore
Supposing Him to be the Gardener (i ) Born Again – Jeff Guess
Suddenly singing – Ron Heard
Cathedral – Janice Williams
Black bathers – Vivien de Jong
The trip home – Tru S Dowling
Triduum – a canticle of love – Tru S Dowling
Driftwood – Stephen House
Three Haiku – a triptych of wonderment – Florence Lisner
Garden art – Dale Harcombe
The flight of geese – Anne Cook
Japanese menu – 2nd course – Janine Johnston
Sitting on a verandah at White Cliffs – Toni Brisland
St Luke’s, Toowoomba – Joan Ray
Cluster – Gabrielle Rowe
Low tide, Wynnum – Ron Heard
Poetica Christi Press
2017 Annual Poetry Competition – Wonderment
Judge’s Report by Peter Stiles (Dr.)
The poems entered in the competition this year were consistently of a good standard. Reading through them all was an enjoyable experience. They reflected the meaningful moments and thoughtful observations that a significant number of poets wanted to capture and share in a variety of poetic forms. Many of them encapsulated what poetry does best, that is ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, as Wordsworth put it in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, in 1800. Poetry helps to shape the individual consciousness and serves to temper the frenzied superficiality of so much modern living. It is undoubtedly therapeutic. Good poetry emanates from stillness, even silence, and is attentive to detail in a way that other literary forms are not suited to or ignore. There are exceptions, of course, such as the Australian novelist and essayist, Tim Winton, who is a reflective and respectful observer of the natural world.
The best poems in the competition drew me into a moment of time, a slice of life, a particular experience that had deep meaning for the poet concerned. Some dealt with seemingly mundane situations, like standing at the kitchen sink and looking up at the sky. Others focussed on exotic themes, such as the mass migration of Monarch butterflies. Both types captured the wonderment that is possible for those who take time to be attentive. The world we share, as poets, is alive with enchantment, wonder and mystery. I first read The Orange Tree, by John Shaw Neilson, when I was a boy. In that poem this early Australian poet visualises the magic in the everyday so well.
Effectively capturing this richness, however, can be a challenge. Poets should read over their poems again and again to see if there is a better word, a more apposite phrase, some fresh and original ways to express an idea. Good poems usually have concentrated language, but read well rhythmically, with a lyrical quality that rings true to the ear of the reader. Preludes, by T. S. Eliot, is an excellent example; perfect in diction, perfect in cadence. It is a truly memorable poem. The best poems in the competition had this quality. They read well, and would be satisfying to the listener if read aloud.
I particularly liked the poems in the competition that had a clear sense of direction and were essentially transparent. Obscure and inscrutable poetry does not serve the cause of poetry. Some of the best poems had a delicacy and simplicity about them that was compelling. Less is usually best in poetry. Having said that, I also liked the poems that had a historical theme, and also those that had an inter-textual quality to them. Deep learning and wide reading are often captured in good poetry. Christian poets should restrain their desire to turn their poems in homilies. Gentle understatement is the best way to allow God’s grace to be felt through verse.
Finally, I passed over poems that obviously made no reference to the theme of wonderment. Strident poems with an aggressive or abrasive tone seemed to have little place in the context of this competition. Good poetry avoids the clamour and attention seeking purposes of some other forms of written expression, and relies on subtlety and nuanced language to reveal the truths about the everyday. Our lives are full of riches and wonderment, just waiting for the eye, ear and heart of the discerning poet.
The winner of the competition was ‘Flight of the Monarchs’, an excellent poem about the mass migration of Monarch butterflies to Sierra Chincua, Mexico. It captures this spectacular, exotic event in a succinct, compelling manner, the reader drawn into a journey that juxtaposes life and death, flight and breathtaking clusters of colour in the forest. It is a very suitable poem for the theme of wonderment. The runner up was ‘Ink’, a touching poem about the loss of a brother in World War One. This clever poem explores the impression that writing can have on our memory, our consciousness, using ink as a metaphor for blood. The hopelessness and waste of war is stressed throughout. Wonderment is subtly suggested in the enduring nature and profound legacy of the written word. Other poems that stood out were ‘Two-sided coin’, ‘The colour of music’, ‘Rayonnement’, ‘Sleeping in Sturt’s Stony Desert’, ‘Summer Peaches’, ‘Illumination’, and ‘Apollo 8’. All had a special quality that set them apart from the rest of the poems.
Peter Stiles (Dr.)
9 July 2017
Winners of the 2015 Poetica Christi Press Poetry Competition – Imagine
The view from a balcony in Noosa
Upon holding a brand new person (womb-fresh and yawning)
Other poems selected by the judge to appear in the anthology – poets listed alphabetically:
Things to do in the belly of a whale
Ride with Chesterton
If Dogs Were Horses
Tru S Dowling
Orange Rope Walk
Ghosts and Dreams
Close Your Eyes
The Crabapple Tree
Sun Dried Tomato