Adelaide Plains Poetry Competition March 2010 - Speech
from the judge, Graeme Catt
Thank you to Carolyn Cordon for organising this competition, which gives writers of all backgrounds the potential to expose their work to a wider audience.
This year’s theme – ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ – gave writers plenty of scope in terms of subject matter. Indeed, we received poems on just about every topic imaginable: nature, work, love, death – even haemorrhoids. (By the way, to the writer who entered that poem, hold it aside, because I think next year’s theme is Gastro-Intestinal Ailments.)
Many entrants even tackled the theme more literally and attempted philosophical pieces or poems that explored the nature of the universe.
Regardless of the subject matter, there are certain things I try to look for when judging any writing competition. Mainly, I am hoping to hear something I haven’t heard before – a startling image, a unique metaphor – a vision of the world that is fresh and perhaps unusual. I hope I have succeeded in my choices for this year’s winners.
It is customary (maybe even compulsory) to offer a couple of quotes at this stage of such a speech, so I have these two to offer. Both mirror the thinking I brought to the judging process:
Rita Dove suggests that ‘Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.’
Salman Rushdie says that: ‘A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.’
Now there were numerous categories and, unfortunately, due to the small number of entries for some of these categories, I was unable to select a winning entry. These categories are poems by residents of the District Council of Mallala, and poems by Secondary School students.
In the Primary School category we received several dozen entries and, for me, the standout poem was ‘The Journey of the Murray’ by Laura Zdanowicz, who has bravely attempted a rhyming poem that remains fresh and appealing to the last line. (I believe we will be hearing Laura read her poem this afternoon.)
I have also offered Commendations to Isabella Somerville for ‘Playground Autism’ and Kelly Pocock for ‘The beach’.
The Open Category received over 70 entries, and it is hoped that the three winning entries meet the need for ‘mystery’, to ‘name the unnameable’.
But first some Commendations – these are all very good poems that didn’t quite make the final three. Firstly, I would like to commend Brenda Eldridge’s ‘River Of Light. I was also impressed with Gavin Austin’s ‘Adrift’. The third commended poem is ‘Everythings’ by Kevin Gillam.
Now to the winners - rather than attempt a dissection or interpretation of these poems, I will read a brief excerpt from each. Unfortunately, as the winning poets live interstate, they cannot read the poems themselves. I hope my readings do them justice.
Third Prize goes to John Egan for his poem ‘The Velvet Zero’. And the first stanza:
Beyond the desk lamp,
its green shade,
the multiple slash
of sharp venetians
and the shrouded night
that covers knots of trees
and walls of rough brick
the void –
the velvet zero
into space and time,
spinning into now.
Second Prize goes to Kevin Gillam for his poem ‘rebreving’. These are the opening two stanzas of the poem:
I have interest only in breathing,
in taking a cupped palm of unthoughts,
feeling them swarm then empty in
an interest in rhythms of moons
and leaving, how the tides
create a gush of idea,
how grief is its own pond,
wind shirred, waiting
First Prize goes to a second John Egan poem, ‘The City and the Stars’. I’d like to read the second stanza of John’s poem.
Beyond the city a universe
of galaxies and stars, the black hole
of extinction, the stellar furnaces
of creation, heat and life –
electrons that dance a thin corolla
around the scrum of nucleus
and the flicker of photons
fired from stars that plunge
towards crescendos of nothing,
the vertigo of infinity
and the limits of the mind.
Congratulations to John Egan and Kevin Gillam for their winning entries in the Open Section, and Laura Zdanowicz for her winning poem in the Primary School category.
Thanks again to Carolyn Cordon for organising the competition, and to all the entrants who continue to make the competition a notable poetry event on the yearly writing calendar.