More than 700 poets entered this year's Peter Porter Poetry Prize; just over 200 of these entries came from overseas. The judges were Luke Davies, Lisa Gorton and Kate Middleton. They completed their judgement without knowing the name, gender, background or nationality of any entrant.
This prize honours Peter Porter and its judges seek to honour him not only in name but in principle: by valuing various approaches to poetry, and by a serious commitment to the judging process. The judges read all entries over the summer and together compiled a varied and impressive longlist of nearly seventy poems, which they read over for several weeks. Over a day in Sydney, they discussed these poems and created a shortlist of five poems: poems which had stayed in their minds all summer and which, on each rereading, kept the power to surprise, impress and move them. In the judges' view, any of these shortlisted poems would have made a worthy winner of this year's Peter Porter Poetry Prize. The five shortlisted poems are '... a passing shower? (18 aphorisms verging on a narrative)', 'Lament for "Cape" Kennedy', 'Prelude to a Voice', 'Rage to Order' and 'Tailings'.
By turns lyrical, jerky, sardonic, funny and facetious, '... a passing shower? (18 aphorisms verging on a narrative)' charges the spaces between its aphorisms with imaginative energy: it builds a sort of electric tension between opposing voices, registers and ways of noticing the world. The poem works with an hallucinatory cognitive dissonance, which challenges settled poetic modes.
'Lament for "Cape" Kennedy' is an elegy of unshowy craft and emotional heft. Keeping its conversational tone, it ranges easily over details, personal memories and stories of injustice and dispossession. The intimacy of its details and the immediacy of its speaking voice enhance and enrich the sorrow and anger of this powerful lament.
'Prelude to a Voice' works at the same time with local detail and mythic depth: 'to keep/ an eye out for snakes/ while carrying the burden/ of water in a steel flask,/ as if bearing the urn/ of all our deaths'. Images open out of images, new forms out of white spaces: the whole page works like a phantasmagorical landscape, in which each part forms its own centre. This is a poem that captures how the mind shimmers in and outside language and its feeling for place.
'Rage to Order' is a poem of vertiginous self-consciousness: its extremity of feeling countervailed by the pressure of silence it makes felt. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins in 'No worst, there is none', this poet brings experience to a pitch in language at once pared back and wild with its play of repeating words and sounds.
'Tailings' is a poem remarkable for its close-woven language, everywhere charged with vivid details; and, at the same time, remarkable for its open and wide-ranging attentiveness. In 'Tailings' the poet nowhere sets place at an aesthetic distance but everywhere attends to its mess and profligacy, a mode of perception alive to the hunger of animals.