2020 Peter Porter Poetry Prize winner

A. Frances Johnson REVISED 2020 PORTER PRIZEA. Frances JohnsonA. Frances Johnson is the winner of the 2020 Peter Porter Poetry Prize, worth a total of $9,000. This was announced at a ceremony at the Boyd Hub Community Center in Melbourne on January 16.

A. Frances Johnson's winning poem is titled 'My Father's Thesaurus'. She receives $7,000, while the four other shortlisted poets each receive $500. The full shortlist, including the winning poem, is available to read online and is published in the January–February issue of ABR

This year’s judges – John Hawke, Bronwyn Lea, and Philip Mead – shortlisted five poems from almost 1,050 entries, from 30 countries. The shortlisted poets were Lachlan Brown (NSW), Claire G. Coleman (Vic.), Ross Gillett (Vic.), A. Frances Johnson (Vic. ), and Julie Manning (QLD).

Congratulations to A. Frances Johnson and to all the poets shortlisted and longlisted in the 2020 Peter Porter Poetry Prize.


In their report the judges noted:

‘This year’s record field demonstrates both the depth and stylistic range evident in this vital area of our literature. The poems were notable for the currency of their engagement with social issues. “My Father’s Thesaurus” by A. Frances Johnson is an unsentimental yet emotive portrayal of the situation of the elderly and their carers.’

On learning of her win, Johnson commented:

‘It was a complete honour to stand shoulder to shoulder with the fine poets on the Peter Porter Prize shortlist. These encouragements for writers in the current cultural and political climate cannot be underestimated. They spur us on to do more, to speak up. I hope my poem honours my late father, Tom, and offers a small bridge to others who have suffered or who are experiencing the terrible affliction of Alzheimer’s. I acknowledge the great work of other Australian poets on dementia topics (Sarah Holland-Batt, Jessica Wilkinson, and others). Terrible mega-fires currently afflict us on the outside, but this illness is a bushfire inside the brain, impossible to contain, still under-resourced. Despite the confusions and word salads, in Dad’s last months we were lucky that there were still ways of finding him, being with him, holding him. I know others have gleaned similar precious communication with loved ones in the last stages of this terrible disease, though sadly, it may not work out that way. Poetry and of course music are often used in aged-care settings to enable sufferers to de-scramble, to maintain a hold on language. Poetry has certainly helped me hold Dad close.’


About A. Frances Johnson

A. Frances Johnson is a writer and artist. She has published three collections of poetry. A fourth collection, Save As, is forthcoming (Puncher & Wattmann, 2020). Her recent collection, Rendition for Harp and Kalashnikov (Puncher & Wattmann, 2017) was shortlisted in the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature Best New Writing Award and, in 2017, she took up an Australia Council B.R. Whiting Fellowship to Rome. A novel, Eugene’s Falls (Arcadia 2007), retraces the Victorian journeys of colonial painter Eugene von Guérard. A new novel in progress, The Lost Garden, explores first-contact histories in remote Southern Tasmania, evoking early horticultural attempts to colonise by seed. A monograph, Australian Fiction as Archival Salvage, was published by Brill in 2015.


Further information

The Peter Porter Poetry Prize is one of Australia’s most prestigious poetry awards.

Subscribe to ABR to gain access to this issue online, plus the ABR archive.

Click here for more information about past winners.

We gratefully acknowledge the long-standing support of Morag Fraser AM and Andrew Taylor AM.

Leave a comment

If you are an ABR subscriber, you will need to sign in to post a comment.

If you have forgotten your sign in details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to ABR Comments. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.