Fire and Ice
by Sequoia Taylor, Redlynch State College, Cairns
Winter kisses me gently
when I’m warm in my bed,
Mother and Father are in the other room
small whispers and peace fill my ears.
when I’m in my golden star coat,
The other girls at school stare at me funny
but I don’t mind.
Winter kisses me gently
when I’m in the carriage out,
Mother assures me that we are okay
but I can’t seem to find Father.
when we are lining up,
Many people seem scared
but I remain strong.
Winter bites my skin harshly
as we stand on the parade grounds,
Mother holds my hand tightly
but I know that it’s her who’s more comforted.
the men yell at us to line up for showers,
Mother passed not long ago
but it still feels like she’s here.
Winter bites my skin harshly
I’m stripped in a small room with too many people,
a terrible smell arises
and I’m not sure I’ll make it.
Winter kisses my body softly
we are no longer one,
it is shoved into fire
burning and blistering.
While the entries addressed a variety of subjects, from race relations to procrastination to ducks in the park, there were a few themes that showed up with striking regularity: the pain of bullying; fear of death; praise for Australian soldiers; the Holocaust; and, for some reason, trees. Reading these poems reminded me vividly of how hard it was to be a teenager: feeling at the mercy of other people's opinions, and having to come to terms with the ugly realities of death and historical injustice. So I'd like to commend everybody who found a way to turn their pain into a poem, as well as everybody who has found something beautiful, happy, or funny to turn into a poem.
But to make a truly excellent poem, it takes more than a good subject. You have to say something new about that subject, and you have to use language in a way that surprises, delights, or dazzles. So it's no surprise that the winning entries varied widely in theme and topic. (In fact, one of the winning entries expressed a philosophical viewpoint that I personally disagree with.) What these poems had in common was their high level of poetic craft. These poems incorporated devices that went beyond rhyme, and included rhythm, repetition, imagery, sonics, pacing, metaphor and character. Many poems glimmered with a striking image, an original turn of phrase, or a captivating dramatic moment, but the ones I've chosen as winners shone in many different rhetorical colours.
Many of this year's entries address the Holocaust, but Fire and Ice is exceptional for the thoughtfulness and subtlety that it brings to its theme. The author uses a variety of literary devices to tell the story of a young Jewish girl in Nazi Germany. For example, the character's social relationships are revealed through gestures: her classmates stare to indicate her their mistrust of her Jewishness; her parents whisper, out of love and thoughtfulness, to avoid waking her up; her mother clutches her hand in the concentration camp out of love and fear. The poem also makes good use of symbolism, with the increasing cold of winter (emphasised through repetition) representing the escalating cruelty of Nazi Germany. The Holocaust is both an important subject, and a difficult subject to write about, so I am happy to see it treated with the care it deserves.
I'm an atheist, and most religious poetry leaves me cold, but How to be a God really captured my attention. The God of the poem is a sympathetic character--a sort of giant human parent who wants the best for their children, but is frustrated by their own limitations. I was impressed by the author's decision to phrase the poem entirely as a set of second-person instructions. This made the language feel lively and immediate, and also made me wonder who the speaker could be be: perhaps an older and more experienced god.
This poem, which presents a forest scene using the senses of touch, taste, and smell, impressed me with its simple phrasing and lively imagery. The poet also displays an impressive understanding of pacing by leading with the speaker's heightened senses, and waiting until the end of the poem to reveal that the speaker is blind. The title, which is the most important line in a poem, is put to good use: the poem is called Kaleidoscope, a word for a device that uses mirrors to create beautiful, colourful images for the sense of sight.
We Were Freaks draws the reader into a tricky middle ground between sympathy and suspicion. The poem is obscure concerning plot details: who the narrators are, what makes them freaks in the eyes of their peers (though the poem hints that they may be vampires), the nature and severity of their retaliation. This mystery is more interesting than a straight story could have been: it's fascinating to try and work out exactly how reliable the narrator is. And despite the plot fuzziness, key emotional features of the situation come through loud and clear: the pain of ostracism, the joy of finding people who are weird in the way that you yourself are weird, the (not entirely trustworthy) feeling of anger at outsiders. This poem paints an accurate picture of an emotional landscape that will be familiar to many teenagers, and to many people who have lived through being teenagers.