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  • Noel Rowe Poetry Award 2017: Judges' Report

    The judges, all former friends, colleagues and students of Noel Rowe, feel that it has been a great pleasure to be associated with this year’s Award, named in his honour. Noel was a great supporter of emerging poets at a time when creative writing was not as established in schools and universities as it is at present. He was a pioneer in this respect and his support and encouragement are still remembered by writers who are now part of the literary scene.

    We were reminded again this year of how many different ways there are of writing poetry. The entries displayed a wide variety of styles and approaches, from the mainly traditional to the wildly experimental. The ages of entrants ranged from the early thirties to the late sixties and it was good to see the work of some of these so-called late starters who had gathered a range of varied experiences in the course of their lives.

    Most of the collections presented recognizable contemporary worlds, ranging from rural and farming landscapes, and seascapes, populated by their various examples of fauna and flora, to the inner city urban landscapes of our major capital cities. The language of the poems ranged across various registers, from the remote and reflective to the immediate and dramatic with most entries presenting a variety of both. 

    The majority of poets were aware of and sensitive to the shape of the poem on the page and the impact of spacing, setting, lettering and lineation. All manuscripts, with few exceptions, displayed the various types of competence that one would expect from serious developing writers. Most conformed to the requirements of presentation; a number were illustrated, which we did not consider necessary and some carried testimonials, which were not requested.

    As judges we were looking for poems where the language was sharp, the images immediate and vivid, with a certain rhythmic alertness, and where the sense of human experience and its significance was heightened. Many of the poems that we read this year were too discursive and would have benefited from sharper editing. The poems we admired most were a good illustration, with their deft economy, of how less can be more in poetry.

    Many of the manuscripts we read this year were worthy of recognition. After much deliberation we decided to shortlist six outstanding manuscripts and ultimately to award the second Noel Rowe Poetry Award to Thom Sullivan’s volume, Carte Blanche.

    Thom Sullivan’s assured voice and skillfully structured poems make this collection a pleasure to read. Many poems touch on the countryside, farmland and landscape, with evocative imagery. Sullivan presents a sharp collection of quietly spoken poems dealing with the complexities of human relationships in a vanishing world. His muted imagery reflects the grey flat landscapes he writes about so accurately. The manuscript has considerable formal variety, from spoken interior monologues and reflections to a series of imagistic notations. It also demonstrates a thoughtful and exciting use of punctuation and syntax.

    We were also very impressed by the other five manuscripts we shortlisted, now mentioned here in alphabetical order by author.

    Chris Armstrong’s poems take their place in a long developing line of Australian bush, nature and wilderness poems, best seen in the work of Douglas Stewart and now brought up to date by the writer’s ecological awareness. They display a remarkable precision of observation and a clear direct voice, the language immediate and forceful.

    Chris Brown’s work was one of the more experimental volumes submitted. The poems contain many literary references and some sophisticated puns and excellent word play through out. They possess a delightfully cynical knowing voice intercut with self-awareness.

    Shey Marque’s poetry is enjoyably lyrical and musical. It demonstrates an exciting use of Spanish and South American surrealism. The poems, several of which explore creativity and the creative process, have a strong individual voice with a lilting sense of rhythm.

    Audrey Molloy’s varied and emotive collection focuses on mother-daughter relationships and skillfully explores the many dimensions of female experience and the life of the body. Along with moving poems about the ambiguous influence of institutional religion on children, the experience of depression, loss, and love, comes light-hearted satire on the trials of parenthood and growing up.

    Kerri Shying’s poems seem straightforward at first but build into a powerful and captivating whole. A vigorous exploration of the narrator’s Chinese and indigenous heritage, these poems are direct and immediate in their voice and form. These poems effectively explore the stresses of contemporary life alongside a deeper spiritual dimension.

    The purpose of this award is to encourage those with a poetic impulse and urge to explore and develop their skills further, remembering that in many ways we are all always beginners, learners, and emerging writers and that ‘life is so short and poetry a craft so long to learn’.

    In the spirit of Noel’s generous and encouraging attitude towards other poets, and his patient mentoring of emerging writers, we are pleased to announce that Thom Sullivan will now work with Elizabeth Allen to edit and polish his manuscript with a view to publishing it in 2018. We are really pleased that we have been able to start Thom Sullivan’s fine manuscript on the path to publication and look forward to seeing it in its final form.

    A heartfelt thank you to all the writers who submitted work for this year’s Award and to all of the people who initiated it and administered it, especially Bernadette Brennan and Michael Brennan.

    Vivian Smith, Jane Gibian, and Elizabeth Allen

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