The winning entry is followed by the judge's report.
By Luana Lima, St Andrew’s Anglican College
Terror hits her like a drum
Pounding on her whole body
Her throat is twisted into knots
As she was left to be tied to the stake to burn
And all she can hear is her ticking heart
The door is icy against her back
As she struggles to hold it up against the famished winds
The floor shudders beneath her in fright
As it suffers from the blows from the foaming waves
Memories flash past her eyes
Like the trees past a racing car
Flashes of blue and green and grey
And despair fills her eyes
As she watches the sun sink into its watery grave
As every hit echoes in her very soul.
Hope that needs to be buried
Beneath mountains of reason
Parched tears on the corner of glazed eyes
Grim countenances brightened by the biting blue light
And all their hopes are placed on a hero
Taking his last breaths
Whispered lies and tear-stained kisses
Shouts to kindle lost courage
Die on leaden tongues
And children playing on an emerald field
Scream as the bombs start falling
And the earth lays barren on the battleground
With the siren’s screeching
And Davy Jones’ Locker
With Neptune’s wrath
And the Taniwha’s rage
How is a sailor supposed to live
To see the next day?
How is a sailor supposed to escape
That Grim Reaper?
How is a girl going to survive?
Mid-last year, the eminent – and eminently down-to-earth – author Neil Gaiman gave a keynote address to graduates of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. That speech has been dubbed “Make Good Art”.
With this year’s Paul Sherman Prize, I was thrilled not just by the size and weight of the envelope that arrived on my doorstep, but – once I’d opened it and begun reading – also by the quality. This year’s entries adeptly mastered metaphor, experimented with form, and evoked familiar and fantastical scenes.
In Gaiman’s address, he said, “A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love.”
This year’s entrants, your messages-in-bottles were found and received – and you have bottles full of admiration and encouragement washing back your way.
I also noted, with pleasure, that this year’s poems were almost universally well proofread. The only criticism I have is of decoration of entries: teachers, if you encourage every entrant from your school to use the same colourful background, those gorgeous poems are often made illegible. Keep it simple.
This year’s entries, in terms of theme, seemed less internal; poets were more concerned with the world around them – the environment, travel, refugees and war, family. This strikes me as an interesting trend in an election year! The most successful entries explored these diverse issues through language that made abstract ideas concrete, relatable, and fresh.
The highly commended entries were each chosen for a certain spark. “A Bat Without a Robin” builds a humorous Batman narrative; “Hope Is” uses repetition beautifully to explore the central concept; “My Tears Still Flow” makes excellent use of metre and rhyme in a poem about grief; and “What I’ve Done” develops a central metaphor – memory as shelter.
In third place, “Hail Storm” glows with evocative metaphors. The poet exercises restraint, with line breaks that highlight each personification of nature. There’s a great build here, from the rain “tip-toeing across the roof” to strobed lighting and pushy winds, and then to a wonderfully understated ending.
“Red Rock” earns its second place for its imagery: the “dried-tomato sands” of outback deserts, the “unkempt hair” of bristly scrubs, and Uluru as a monolith …
“who flares and dims,
like a neo light that slowly morphs
when the sun floats.”
The poet sketches the scene with careful attention to pacing.
In first place, “Shipwrecked Memories” certainly resonates with Neil Gaiman’s concept of art as message-in-a-bottle! The poet crafts a seafaring adventure narrative in which the damsel is not the only one in distress; the ship’s floor itself “shudders beneath her in fright” under “famished winds”. Against pirates and sirens, the poem invokes the help of Davey Jones, Neptune, even the Taniwah in a world where …
“hope needs to be buried
beneath mountains of reason.”
Layered over this narrative, the poet – never making anything explicit – juxtaposes piratical violence with modern-day battles: internal and external, physical and social. I can’t wait to hear the poet read her/his work.
Zenobia Frost is a Brisbane-based poet, editor and critic. She services as Cordite’s assistant editor as well as a poetry editor with Voiceworks Magazine, which edits and publishes the work of Australian writers under the age of 25. Zen also runs the Ruby Fizz Salon poetry series at Bird Gallery and Café in Brisbane’s CBD. Her forthcoming full-length manuscript, ‘Salt and Bone’, was recently shortlisted in the Thomas Shapcott Prize.