The word winner and, indeed, the concept of winning have had something of a bad press lately with the advent of Donald Trump. His binary world admits winners (usually singular, usually himself) and losers (inevitably plural and including everybody else).
I was uncomfortably aware of this repugnant paradigm as I read and re-read through the nearly 300 entries for this year’s Takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize. There were just so many astonishing poems could have elicited Trumpian superlatives, albeit genuine superlatives. My long list numbered over forty, which, with difficulty, I was able to whittle down to twenty or so, and from these down to ten, where I became mired in indecision. Back and forth, back and forth until I was able to settle on five and then – oh, invidious task – to make my final decisions.
The main difficulty was the old apples and bananas thing. Perhaps my best qualification to be a judge is my eclecticism. Poetry embraces a range of styles, forms and voices and I am very fond of most of them. My final group included soapboxes and boudoirs, ballrooms and laboratories. There was formality and experiment, personal statements and public pronouncements, hermetic puzzles and transparent windows; there were some tender love poems, beautiful evocations of time and place, elegies and outrageous laugh-aloud two finger salutes.
All of the twenty surprised, delighted or moved me, the best of them all of these things at once and I would like to thank the writers so much. The wider group included the writers (in no particular order of How to Make Better garden Soil; Crossing the Timaru River; Chicken; Sour Plum; Boots on the Ground; At Home with Doppler; Body; & Fissures of Memory. I kept returning again and again to When the planes hit the Twin Towers; A language so foreign; Great South Desert; Waiting for someone who’ll be a no show in the Natural History Museum; the glass angel fish from venice (the island of murano); Like Honey in Water, so are the days of our lives; Johnny; & Halocline.
The final group were those that compelled, that intrigued, that took me places I’d not been before. These were the pieces that were artless in their artistry, the poems with burrs that clung to the memory. I commend their authors, and these are their poems: Tree of souls; In Other Words; In the Anteroom, and This house.
Because the rules compel me, I would give the nod to This house. This is a lovely piece with its insistent voice, its disparate voices and echoes and its ultimate tenderness. Second place goes to Tree of souls with its jaunty demotic and delightful surprises. I could not separate two runners up: In the Anteroom, an image-rich portrait of a twentieth century woman with great evocations; and In Other Words a piece of almost classical restraint and simplicity but with much depth and much musicality.
First Place: Robyn Maree Pickens – This house
Second Place: Nicola Easthope – Tree of souls
Runner-Up: Anita Arlov – In the Anteroom
Runner-Up: Lynley Edmeades – In Other Words
The winning poem is published in takahē 94.