WB Yeats Poetry Prize
for his poem
Who among the angels will find you if you move?
Unfazed by the coast road, we welcomed the challenge
of beaches heaped with wrack and kelp,
the uncertainty of estuaries gargling inland.
Neither offered nor seeking the locals' help
we volunteered to take the King's shilling
and gusted forth in an armada of vans
to appear beside unsuspecting straits,
bearing our strange totem across blanched tundras,
down cool corridors of shade beside dry-stone lanes
or out from some eternal grimy nowhere under
a fire-escape into midday-cambered street,
all on the assumption we had a lien
on any place with a name or GPS coordinate.
In lairy parkas or Hawaiian shirts we took our snaps;
and if sometimes the aperture missed a turning,
no-one could accuse us of a major lapse
in plying our trade: nothing made us deviate
around the patriarch and his ageing wife yearning
under the terebinth, or those doomed towns on the savannah.
Our lenses were the centre of a circle that is everywhere;
the cursor receding, as if fending
off retirees in their motorhomes, schoolkids on cycles.
We laid chevrons down on macadam like manna,
to be gathered as directions demanded; found
opportune rams in their thickets, junk food scraps,
billboards and graffiti; filled our jars
from the remorseless shaduf
of history's resentments; in chic boulevards or dusty bazaars
you could find us portrayed in antique maps
as cherubs puffing zephyrs of reproof
at the gaps left by burned, abandoned villages.
Our wings cover our eyes; your faces
grow unclear, blurred by the time we must
have spent out there, hurrying past all the places
we could not or would not go, a triage
of what had to be recorded so faithfully,
so faithfully missed.
Isi Unikowski is a Canberran poet, who has been widely published in Australia and overseas. His published poetry can be
viewed at https://www.isiunikowski.net/.
His first collection, Kintsugi, is forthcoming in August 2022 from Puncher & Wattman, New South Wales.
Judges comments: The title recalls opening lines of Rilke, 1st Elegy, and moves towards a self-mocking & depreciation of cultural tourism in last stanza.
Isi will receive his Prize Certificate at The Hill of Content Bookshop 85 Bourke Street, Melbourne, and read his poem on Saturday July 9 next. 2. 00 to 3.30 PM All welcome.
The following poets work was
(No particular order)
The following poets
work was Commended
(No particular order)
Alison J Barton
Christmas Day 2021
In among the ruins, love
Spring in Albuquerque
Richard James Allen
Yeats Poetry Competition 2021
We would encourage all entrants to this competition to keep in mind that this competition is named in honour of W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), whose life and worl drew upon several strong streams of lived experience. One hopes that entrants have read
at least a basic biography, be familiar with the wondrous variety of his works, as well as the canons of European literature. Not that pale imitations of Yeats are being sought, but his poems could well be explore as models and inspiration.
More than 150 poems were received, and there was a great range of subject matter, variations in style and in craft. Accordingly, the judges had much reading and deliberation before deciding on their final choices.
The best offerings successfully maried emotion, thought and form, paying attention to the decencies of poetry.
Highly Commended Poems (in no particular order
Say this is the lesson:
with the shadow fleeting
then with the swallows
When they come from behind fast
and disappear in shade
it's a reminder
When they shine like two knives in air
the lesson is
to keep trying
The dead are their bones
and then their bones
The families are bereft
There are no signs
unless the ones we make
We place great store in the birds
who also die
and whose bones
Today its a whipbird
cracking its song on the blind cliffs
Which send it back
Which makes the darkness
blacker than before
The way a knock will make a house
when it stays
The birds are singing note for note
the shape of the hill
The thing the hill is
in this moment
How no other shape can be made
The sea is on time
the boats on their mooring All of them
Leaning towards the exact measure
that the earth,
which also curves to the tune of something
that has already being named,
Judges comments:Whilst ostensibly about birds, the strong imagery & interesting form, reminiscent of Snyder,
retains the reader's attention throughout.
Just quilting and unraveling the thing.
Penelope was probably happy doing that,
flattered by a bunch of oily freeloaders
she didn't have to touch, the toyed with
idea of an absent husband better by far
than the smelly goatish fact of him
turning up with ten years of BO and VD
from a Boys Night Out battling monsters
and fucking witches on the high seas.
Who could live up, or down, to that?
And then what? Him at home endlessly
jawing his tales, like a pub bore, fisherman's
fables about the one that got away
head and tail growing more between the hands
with each deadly retelling; poor Cyclops
ever expanding, like an accordion, from
the wretched one-eyed shepherd they bullied
into a multi-storied ogre of awe.
Or him off his face on Lotus flowers, imagining
his faulty smoke alarm as a Siren call.
Yes, what a treat, 'King Odysseus', bored
to shit down on the farm, stumping about
pulling fat Elvis karate kicks at menacing
olive trees, bellowing up a nightly meat feast
for him and his pissed mates, berating his
kid for being a pale bedwetting vegan Goth
who brings home the wrong kind of dates . . .
No, all things considered, tried for size on,
better to tip Border Patrol: 'hey, he's on the horizon'.
Judges comments: A poem to be enjoyed, with its play between 'Wild Swans at Coole', the writer's
language following much the same cadence & patterns, and Beethoven's Emperor Concerto.
The central argument is appealing.
When the rain came that afternoon, I
put on the Emperor. At first I thought
it was the peacock strutting on the roof
scrabbling around, but no, it was
the downpour flooding the damp ground.
I had seen them earlier, the peacocks
head to head, cock to hen in what appeared to be
avian affection. Washed away, I shouldn't doubt,
in the downpour that followed. Lovers
caught in the rain often find passion
drying with the return of the sun. I wonder
if I'll see those birds so intimate again.
Perhaps it was the rain souring my mood
or perhaps just the slow movement
of the concerto feathering my melancholy.
Ludwig had no plumage. He found
a deeper brilliance than any peacock blue,
but his lady students found him dull,
even in some ways a turkey. Each of those
beautiful talented girls declined his affection,
went looking for glossier birds. By then
he could not hear the rain, but saw
that look on their faces and fed it
into the slow movement of the Emperor
while winter washed the streets of Vienna.
Alison J Barton
Slept with pages in my eyes. Troughs undermined our mouths. We wanted to
believe in the underworld.The retreat to silence failed: rules were without a
While thickets grew in green, summer would be black. A stay in a flowerbed
of lavender sheets split petals down the centre. Each year this garden will fill
me with water.
Found no beauty today but what I already had. Forgot to leave burdens alone.
A disassemblage contained the sun like birds and monoliths.
We lived here when this street was foreign to me. We were a paradise to be
ruined. Rain could not help us now.
I sensed something was right, my heart like an attack.
The moon covered half your face and stencilled your shoulder. I managed my
grief, filled your space with the brazen tips of my fingers, relaxed back to
tense, landed somewhere I did not recognise.
Neither of us uttered your name. We were made of the city, where our
stars used to be. The weight of a ribbon from birth to fluid.
A black-out wound through like fire, hunted and trialled my mistakes both
minor and fatal.
What you sewed could not be untangled. They break doors down falling
through like an ocean.
I diagnosed a freind between the colours that morphed to descending lines on
fleshy skin maps, a aheavy grey. Broached subjects softly or not at all, gave
away hatchlings in place of you.
I am worse for asking. I grip questions so tight that my tied heart told me not
to and broke stories of silent families in cement. We bridge the night.
They say I am queen, that my grandmother was a bushland dweller, both grand and mother. They say the earth
In Among the Ruins, Love
After Cupid and Pysche, Ostia Antica, Rome
I tread the wide slabbed stone street, lined
With pines, thinking that those ancients knew
How to build a road alright. Passing the half-
Shell of an amphitheatre, the grid lines of
Tenements, remains of shops of wheat and
Wine and other goods, some with deities still
Rubbled at their doors, I come at last to stand,
As we stood so many times before, on the
Pale tessellated floor where, raised clean
Among the mosaics and sunbaked bricks
They stand, twin torsos, pedestalled: Cupid,
Accidental victim of his mother's ploy, in a
Marbled embrace with Pysche, beauteous
And unwitting prompter of so much envy.
You used to bring me here, too fractious
A child to be constrained by an apartment.
Meet at the statuettes in twenty minutes!
You'd say, and off I'd run; what would I give
To turn back now to you. I no longer wonder
What happened to their legs or why their
Eyes are blank, but fancy I can still feel --
As I watch a lizard slowly cross Psyche's
Polished thigh -- in among the ruins, love.
Note: The statue referenced here is located in the House of Cupid and Psyche at Ostia Antica. In classical mythology, Venus (Aphrodite, Gr.), mother of Cupid (Eros, Gr.),
being jealous of the exceptional beauty of Psyche (soul, Gr.), instructed him to shoot a golden arrow into Psyche which would cause her to fall in love with whomever
was in front of her; instead, while contemplating her, Cupid accidentally scratched himself with his own arrow, and was instantly and permanently smitten.
Spring in Albuquerque
The car accident happened at 20mph in a parking lot
on campus. The passenger side, where I sat, was struck,
and I watched the other driver through my window,
her daydream, cracking like a cicada's exoskeleton
as she realised what was happening, the breeze coming
in through the windshield all over her skin. We could have made
eye contact it was so close, so slow. Shock can roll
down the body like this: leisurely kiss along the shore,
and wondering where it might end--the gentle line of white-
wash they call the break.
You were driving me to a dance class
before the car accident, and I said, Its ok, I can walk there.
I still have time. You took me by my shoulders, and said, up close:
Baby, you've just been in a car accident. You are not going
to any dance class. Everything seemed like A Big American Deal
to me. Eventually I agreed to stay, to provide a police report
on this very slow accident and let my idea of the future float away
for one evening. Later, we ate curry at a Thai restaurant with
a lopsided drive-through bay, faded image of a burrito
below the 'Lotus Palace' sign. I stared at the sheen-black
countertop flecked with grains of rice, pale fingerprints, wondering
who really lost the plot?
The insurance company said our car
with a single dented door
was a write-off. They paid for us to see an osteopath, and
when she asked how my neck pain had started, I told her
it was the car accident. She leaned over her clipboard,
ticked some boxes. The her fingers found the knots
that were there always there, always returned. Not long after,
you went away. That last day
I was getting Raphael ready for the playground. Holding him,
trying to dress myself, strange fractals of panic in my throat
a phone call that split the seam of my life with its noise, white
ringing in my ears.
For weeks I woke into the deserted bed--
two thoughts only in my head: You had gone to work early
in our new car. I would meet you later on your lunchbreak.
Then your face a ghost up close to mine in the grey bedroom
the breeze dusting my shoulders from the open window
everything split wide and something cold that was not
the air but my own skin, raw and not yet real--
But (let me past you, I know where I'm going)
if I could just lift Raphael over the crack, we might reach
the playground still, find you waiting outside your office
on campus at lunchtime. Itr's ok, we can walk there.
We still have time.
A dead Snapper in a fishshop window
is lovelier than a sports car,
the scales, the fins, the whole design,
the brutal set of the mouth,
slanted like a One Nation picket line.
But no politics for fish, something deeper:
look into that jellyblack eye and see
what it saw that last day at sea,
what rocks, what wrecks and weeds,
what crabs and creatures,
all the wee fishies aswim in the yeasty
deep, under a churning ferry,
through the gangrened legs of a pier,
scooting some undersea canyon,
echo sounded gully, valley, trench.
Tell me how it was dear fish,
that last day you were took from your self,
what frolics before you were hooked,
trawled, scooped from the shelf.
I am the Road am I, the roadsong sung on high--potholed, stoned. All dangerous curves
and black ice. Miss Rock 'n' Roll Roadkill at your (next) service.
I am the shoulder you cry on for the one who left--or stayed too long. Now so far away.
Destiny and ley: a lay in the distance or some future happenstance.
I am all pent up with pentameter and spent kilometres--you know Who. The Great
Grey Serpent with a misspent youth of feckless, reckless acceleration.
I am an old typewriter ribbon unspooled, indigo ink spilled like sperm, a semi-permanent
spot on the horizon--a vanishing point of no return.
I am the Mercurial One always going somewhere. Your possessions will pass you
just south of here--though better to be Possessed than to owe on "Paradise".
I am the Blues tone. Bluestone and bitumen. (Bitch, you mean!) Momentum's nine-tenths
of the law. Your secret flaw, a needle to the red, the thread, tread, and trouble ahead.
I am the highway sign assaulted--peppered with pellet holes and menace, the rock that
slipped, the fallen eucalypt, a guardrail you clipped.
I am the reverse camber, the perverse camper, the fatal distraction or cheap, roadside
attraction, the neon greasy spoon, your favourite mixtape tune.
I am the hitcher's uneasy currency, a pearl necklace string of places, a million
half-forgotten faces in deadly, high-speed chases.
I am the way to Curio City. Curiosity: what's your rush, Driver? Voracious Striver?
You devour my towns like a Pac-Man! Pull over and check out the scenery.
I am the high way, the road you decided to take. It was I
who kept you awake with my audible lines.
I am the Road am I--come with me, Ami!
There is a quietude upon the lake
When early evening falls in drifting mist
And echo cries of lone ducks and swans
Seem like the homing calls to those they miss
Sometimes a flash of pewter silver shines
As last light catches on a quiet splash
And lilies close their starburst flower folds
And all the glow of day becomes as ash
On days when loneliness hung like a haze
For all the world I'd known was far away
And love was lost with nothing in its place
As faith in God and fate faded to gray
I sought the lake. I sought its soothing peace
Its languid lapping at my fretful feet
Its promise that all rounds of life and dreams
Were constant on its shores and in its deeps
Now forty years have passed: I seek it still
This ink-dark mirror shot with shards of green
This lake that lifts the mind, that shifts the heart
This place of what is there and what is seen
Here still the swans alight to meet and mate
Ducks yet waddle, squabble, reverberate,
The darkening still claims that light must go
But night will end, and in its ending, glow.
Richard James Allen
I see you've got your own private wolf. A history of toys.
The horrors of sleep. I love your password.
You and the blue sky. I've kept your secret all my life.
Death will be a good place to hide it, as good a place as any.
Suicide on a Tuesday. Why stave off death, isn't it the big finish
We've all been waiting for? Then we can head off
To the after party to join all the darlings we have killed.
I don't walk the dog. I walk the emptiness.
Don't judge a book by its abracadabra.
This isn't the sonnet at the bottom of the escalator
Or the idea of Christmas in the tangible hotel. When I go,
I want to leave behind more than the smell of roses.
Remember, human history includes typos
And successful people never look down.