WB Yeats Poetry Prize

for

Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

2021

First Prize

Awarded to 

Isi Unikowski

Canberra

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

Highly Commended

(No particular order)

Lesson

Jenny Pollak

Domestic

Tug Dumbly

Peacocks

Ron Pretty

The following poets

work was Commended

(No particular order)

Diary

Alison J Barton

Christmas Day 2021

Anne Casey

Aisling

Anne Casey

In among the ruins, love

Denise O'Hagan

Spring in Albuquerque

Kerry Bonnie

Taste

Tug Dumbly

Audible Lines

Jonathan Cant

University Lake

Tracey-Anne Forbes

Today, continued

Richard James Allen

    Yeats Poetry Competition 2021

    Judges Report

    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                                                                   

    Jenny Pollak                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

     

    NSW                                                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                               

       

    Lesson                                                                                                                                               

    Say this is the lesson:

     

    with the shadow fleeting

    then with the swallows

    backlit

    like embroidery

    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

                                                                                                        completely

                                                                                     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

                                                                                                        also vanish

    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

    appear

    more vacant

    when it stays

    unanswered

                                                                 The birds are singing note for note

                                                                                         the shape of the hill

                                                                                         The thing the hill is

                                                                                                in this moment

                                                                                                                being

                                                                   How no other shape can be made

                                                                                            without lessening.

    The sea is on time

    also

    the sun

    The hill

    the eucalypts

    the boats on their mooring       All of them

    complicit

    Leaning towards the exact measure

    that the earth,

    which also curves to the tune of something

    that has already being named,

    hums

    Judges comments:Whilst ostensibly about birds, the strong imagery & interesting form, reminiscent of Snyder, 

    retains the reader's attention throughout.

    Tug Dumbly

     

    Domestic

    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.

    Ron Pretty

    NSW

    Peacocks

    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.

    Commended Poems

    Alison J Barton

    Victoria

    Diary

    Monday

    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

    game.

    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.

    Thursday

    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.

    Saturday

    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.

    The night-time

    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.

    Tuesday

    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.

    Friday

    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.

    Sunday

    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.

    Wednesday

    They say I am queen, that my grandmother was a bushland dweller, both grand and mother. They say the earth

    tremored me.

    Denise O'Hagan

    NSW

     

    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.

    Kerry Bonnie

    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

    and

    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.

     

    Tug  Dumbly

     

    Taste

    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.

    oooo

    Jonathan Cant

    Sydney

    Audible Lines

    I

    I am

    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!

     

    I am

    I

    Tracey-Anne Forbes

     

    Queensland

     

    University Lake

    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

    NSW

    Today, continued

    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.