The word ekphrasis comes from the Greek ek – ‘out’ – and phrasis – ‘speak’ – as well as the verb ekphrazein, which means to call an inanimate object by name. Artistically, ekphrasis is a rhetorical device in which a visual object, usually a work of art, is vividly described by another artistic medium – in this case, a poem under 12 lines in length. Open to all Australian residents, the inaugural winner received $500 in prize money and the runner-up $250, and the top five poems are published here in partnership with Verity La.
Runner-up: ‘At your table‘ by Adriana Orifici, in response to William Robinson’s Bright sea at Cape Byron, 2007
Shortlisted: ‘Thermodynamic Asymetries’ by Damon O’Brien, in response to Brian Brownhall’s Night arrows; ‘A great gaping hole’ by Sarah Rice, in response to Sidney Nolan’s Deserted miners’ camp, Queensland; ‘There Again’ by Matt Hetherington, in response to Robert Brownhall’s Night arrows
The Wait (Rosanna Licari)
(after Alligator Creek, Cairns by Ian Fairweather, 1939)
Smear yourself into this country,
and settle near piers, banks
and glassy-eyed pools. Up north,
where the morning smells of South-East Asia
and covers you in sweat.
Then lose focus for a moment
and the landscape becomes batik–
a woman wrapped in blues and greens.
But in the fluid of oil and gouache lie other matters.
The fruit bats hang in trees, fanning themselves
as the reptiles watch patiently
for a fall.
At your table (Adriana Orifici)
(after Bright sea at Cape Byron by William Robinson, 2007)
There is nothing to the start of this day – sand glossy with jellyfish –
That bright sea –
To foretell it is the last time we will see you.
Surfers bob up between yawning waves – others cling like starfish to rocks –
While bush turkeys amble down to the water
And examine the scene with prehistoric eyes.
We are sitting in a house above it all – a desire line cuts a path from our table to the ocean –
You are waxy skinned and stoic
A trembling hand defiantly holds up your knife.
This time should be yours but you talk with sparkling eyes to your children –
You tell them how they grew –
They mirror your weightless calm.
Thermodynamic Asymmetries (Damen O’Brien)
(after Night Arrows by Robert Brownhall, 2014)
Your night is a slow shadowless exposure;
an open aperture of observation. Your night
is a hot glow; a phantom after-image
of Brisbane’s long daylight saving-less afternoons.
You’ve found a bomb-tester’s false town façade,
waiting for the pressure wave to hurricane the houses:
ghost streets and ghost cars with their indicators on,
ticking, and ticking like ambivalent radiation.
Your first sketches had a boy running somewhere
but the linen stretches out an empty isotope of evening,
and there is an enfilade of arrows leaving stage left,
giving way to eternity, coming through on the right.
A great gaping hole (Sarah Rice)
(after Deserted miners’ camp, Queensland, by Sidney Nolan )
There are ghosts in the ground again
As there always are
These two hold each other
and kiss with black-lined lips
A black-bird triangle falls
into its own white mine
A halo hovers
around the swing set
As if it knows the future
is under erasure
And in the middle of it all
an empty door
There Again (Matt Hetherington)
(after Night arrows by Robert Brownhall, 2014)
nothing is burning is over
looked like glass the sky is not a limit is
time to pay our last respects to the present
now where is tedium it’s not what was left
behind all the questions pushing it uphill is not
the end of the road or home where you don’t think it
should have been no signs won’t be blanker than mirrors
though how many yawns from dusk to dawn all sleep falls
into it but no lightning in the distance no reason to hide no faces
everywhere you don’t turn just to be on the safe side it says the forbidden is
not hidden like green fire in all the miles of similes the one with the quietest voice
Damen O’Brien is a Queensland poet, living in Wynnum. He is currently working as a Senior Contracts Manager for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle company, which is much less exciting than it sounds (if at all). Damen has been published in Cordite and Mascara, and has won or been highly commended in the Yeats Poetry Prize, the Nillumbik Ekphrasis Poetry Award, in the Ipswich Poetry Festival, The Redlands Poetry Prize, and the FAW Tasmania Poetry Prize.