Poets celebrated

The winners of our 2020 Castlemaine Poetry Prize were announced at a small ceremony at The Taproom at Shedshaker Brewing last Saturday, December 19.
The competition, initiated by the Castlemaine Mail, is now in its ninth year and has been proudly supported by Mount Alexander Shire
Council and Soldier and Scholar Bookshop since its inception. 
We would like to thank all the poets that took the time to make submissions in what has been a particularly challenging year and our wonderful judge Tegan Gigante of PoetiCas who once again had the incredibly challenging task of selecting our winners.
This year’s winner was Cynthia Troup of Lauriston for ‘There’s Time’. Cynthia also picked up two Highly Commended awards in this year’s competition! Runner-up was Barkers Creek’s Melody Price for ‘The Present’ and the Judge’s Award honour and the book voucher from Soldier and Scholar Bookshop went to Peter James Wreford Dawson of Castlemaine for ‘Walking On Kalimna Point’. 
Other award winners included Commended award recipients Cheryl Howard for ‘Play of Light’ and Victoria Morris for ‘Naughton Swifts’.
Judge Tegan Gigante said that she is looking for several features of a poem that makes it stand out. (See her full Judge’s Report below). For more of our winning poems see the January 8, 2021 edition of the Mail…

‘There’s Time’ 
By Cynthia Troup

Face the freezing wind –
there’s time, at the porous curve of the tide 
beating shells, stone, surf litter into sand 
there’s time, hurling the elements’ chorus into wide ears of the hills 
deep into coastal caves 
there’s time, heaving in a dark-rimmed blowhole 
spitting salt into the twilit sky, there’s time 
in the freezing wind when an ungloved hand reaches straight for another 
and a pulse sings low from the open palm. 

There’s time, thick and immeasurably slow 
neither kind nor unkind, time 
freezing to touch, observant 
warm and agile somewhere else 
strict to itself, caressing each certainty 
into the next: the superfluous 
into whatever is basic, inevitable – 
crystals into gas, cubes into spheres, mound 
into plain, marsh to desert 
forest fern into rock 

wire into watchtowers, ruins into homes 
fossils into mystery
discovery, museum, glass returned to 
sand at the tideline, where the ocean pulls and pushes like 
a thousand-million questing hands 
those red hands that drew us screeching into being 
and flutter about the unborn and the dying 
busy with the business of absolute acceptance. 
Face the freezing wind –

2020 Judge’s Report

As a judge, I am looking for several features of a poem that makes it stand out. These include the use of devices like rhythm and cadence, complex metaphor, and a coherence in terms of how such devices are sustained throughout a poem to give it wholeness; a satisfying completeness that leaves us nodding our heads. In a successful poem the form complements and seems to arrive naturally from the content and themes. I am also tuned to original images: an accomplished poet can give us a new way to see familiar things. The winning poem is an excellent instance of all these features. Titled ‘There’s time’, it explores a subject which is ever-present yet remains elusive; a classical poetic theme that always has room for new perspectives. Time is revealed to us as the tangible processes of the world that unfold as we observe them. Take this line as an example: ‘there’s time, hurling the element’s chorus into wide ears of the hills’. Time is ‘neither kind nor unkind’; though the non-human phenomena of wind and tide are inextricable from the ‘ungloved hand’ that ‘reaches straight fro another’, from the ‘red hands that drew us screeching into being’. The poem blends the responsive cycle of the human with the non-human world with which we are intimately connected. 

This connection is a theme shared by many of the poems submitted for this year’s competition. Climate change and its accompanying fears and hopes, responses to increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and human accountability. Acute observations of our own local environment, the box-ironbark forest, convey empathy and concern for the marginalised and diminished ecosystem and its inhabitants. Compassion is one of the great keys of poetry. Seeing and feeling our way into the world in order to voice our experience and understand the world, and communicate these insights, is close to the very reason of being for the poet. Many of the poems submitted act as windows into domestic scenes, explorations of childhood and ageing, trauma and love, sharing very personal experiences. These are deeply moving, and I commend the bravery of those who committed them to writing and offered them up to be read. Of course, a number of the entries this year reflected the themes that have come to be by-words for 2020: bushfire, lockdown, the virus. They remind us that one of poetry’s key roles is to act as witness to our times, and to help us comprehend them.

Part of what informs my choices is the selection of representatives for the themes and styles that emerge from the submissions as a whole. And so, the judge’s choice award went to ‘Walking on Kalimna Point’, a poem that paints a vivid landscape of an intimately familiar local environment, offering a detailed series of observations within an embodied experience that is both tender and playful. The runner-up poem, ‘The Present’, effectively mastered a complex rhyme scheme and sustained rhythms, and explored a perennial philosophical question. The highly commended and commended poems touched on themes of grief and the journeys of the heart, as in ‘This is the season’, and ‘Play of light’, with astute feeling and metaphor; concern for the ecological crisis with an original perspective, as in ‘Great-age forests reshaped by climate change’; and the portrait of  a flock of birds witnessed and described so intimately in ‘Naughton Swifts’.

No single poem can realise all these possibilities of poetry, but taken together as a whole, the submissions for this year’s competition explore a wide breadth of what poets can offer us in terms of empathy, understanding, and observation. Whether your poem won a prize or not, indeed whether you submitted a poem or not, I hope that these acts of poetry inspire you to tune deeper into the world, and engage in your own unique response to it as these poets have. It certainly inspires me.

Lisa Dennis
Editor of the Castlemaine Mail newspaper and senior journalist on our sister paper the Midland Express. Over the last 24 years Lisa been proudly reporting news in the Mount Alexander and Macedon Ranges communities.