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The joy of winning

05 Feb 2020

The joy of winning Image

Words by Rhonda Dredge

Melbourne writer and academic, Amanda Johnson, won the prestigious Peter Porter Poetry Prize last month and she was present at a Southbank ceremony to read her winning poem.

The poem My Father’s Thesaurus is addressed to her dad who contracted Alzheimer’s.

Ms Johnson makes light of the topsy-turvy world he created for his family and carers.

“You watched the piano and played the sunset,” she read. “The district nurse was trying to poison you.”

When she and her mother drove him home from the test among paddocks and cattle, “we hung our heads and hid the report in the glove box.”

Ms Johnson said she would use the $9000 prize money to help bushfire victims or reforestation in the Otways.

Short-listed poets and their friends from around the country gathered quietly in the Assembly Hall at Boyd Community Hub for the announcement.

The prize is donated annually by the Australian Book Review (ABR), which has offices in Boyd.

The ABR poetry editor made a speech then the short-listers read from their work.

The poems were modest, possibly to suit the mood of the moment, for poetry, according to John Hawke, the ABR poetry editor, is in institutional decline.

He cited the threat to UWA Press and the removal of the chair of Australian literature at Sydney University.

“We’re seeing poetry disappear from Saturday newspapers,” he said.

Despite these gloomy observations, ABR received more than 1000 submissions for the annual prize.

Mr Hawke compared reading the submissions to listening into a national conversation.

“There is certainly an evident attention to pressing social issues, but the approach is deeper,” he said. “It’s not just polemic. In the best poems we received every detail is saturated with lived experience.”

Ross Gillett read from South Coast Sonnets, a series of poems in which the narrator and a friend were buffeted by winds in a coastal setting. “Call it the eternal southerly.”

They took a dusk walk. “Above us clouds were turning into scraps of themselves.”

Mr Gillett told Southbank News the poem was about Peterborough.

Julie Manning read Constellation of Bees, an informational and didactic poem about a beekeeper who visited her to capture native bees.

Others on the short list were Claire G. Coleman with That Wadjela Tongue and Lachlan Brown with Precision Signs.

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