The Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award, now in its second year, is named after one of Australia’s premier art dealers. All the paintings used in the competition are personally selected by (and from the collection of) Philip Bacon, the patron of Queensland’s only ekphrastic prize.

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.


Nathan Shepherdson announcing the Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award winners for 2016

This year’s judges were Nathan Shepherdson and Chloë Callistemon. First prize went to Gail Hennessy, second prize to Matt Hetherington, while Ashley Haywood,  Gabrielle Higgins and Pam Schindler were highly commended. 

Verity La are proud to present all five ekphrasis, plus the artworks that inspired them.


Emily Kngwarreye, ‘Drying wildflowers’, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 152 x 122 cm

The Dichotomy of the Paper Flower  (Gail Hennessy)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’

in the touch of reflected stillness
rhizomes’ under-earth connections
link the knuckle bones of country
scaffolds of roots umbrella into a
blossoming of dried amber, a button
box of circles marbled into pattern
our eyes reach to Braille touch
the dryness of disparate wildness
the daubed precision of reflected stillness
autumn colour scatters to tessellate
an inland vision of sky-pooled water
x-rayed over a skin of parchment

Soon Ago  (Matt Hetherington)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’

we’re here, so let’s meet in the middle for as long as
the sun is warm and doesn’t make a sound
no one’s hiding anywhere, the air doesn’t cover its face
and earth offers soft things so they skin-drink the day
these hands are as busy as flies but
hope you’re not reading too fast
what’s known, what’s always shown, you can feel it
with seeds all around, no need to ask
what’s the point of a circle?  don’t get stuck
like a stick in the muddy, the sky is in the ground

On long walk away from away and waking with the sun (Ashley Haywood)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’
light]  and          spoor    [who in the?]                              circling               the lips  of
                  old graves                      futile tussock
                              mounds              and       roots
                              suppering on
                  ash      [smoke in the]                   to feed  their   heavy      heads
                               [distance] full    of epitaphs
                                                             seeds  soon
                  the belongings of wind                             and [

Drying wildflowers  (Gabrielle Higgins)

After Emily Kngwarreye’s ‘Drying wildflowers’

it  all  moves…
these pleasing still
points of fore and background
though each mark
is felt…like recall
and I can only think of wattle
tangled in my hair…the cubby house
of weighted boughs of it
when I knew my spot

Dorothy Napangardi, 'Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa', 2005, acrylic on canvas,122 x 200 cm

Dorothy Napangardi, ‘Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa’ 2005, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 200 cm

Landscape (Pam Schindler)

After Dorothy Napangardi’s ‘Karntakurlangu Jukurrpa’

I remember arriving with the grasstree spikes
in creamy flower, taller than a man,
the birds balancing to feed
on such cones of sweetness
in the excited air —
the dead in their trees, speaking and sighing,
the wind in their leaves —
the locked and breaking
honeycomb of days
the hooked blanket of the land
the mesh of light
the tongues of the white rain

photo credit: Gina McDonald

photo credit: Gina McDonald

Gail Hennessy has been published widely in newspapers, literary supplements, journals and anthologies over the last forty years. In 2010 her collection, Witnessing, brought many of these published poems together with new poetry. Witnessing followed her Doctoral thesis, ‘Testiminio: Witnessing my Mother’s Life: Race and Identity in Twentieth Century Australia’. She has completed a second collection of poetry soon to be published.

photo credit: Di Cousens

photo credit: Di Cousens

Matt Hetherington is a writer, music-maker, and moderate self-promoter living in Brisbane. He has been writing poetry for over 30 years, and has published 4 poetry collections and over 300 poems.  His first all-haiku/senryu collection For Instance was published in March 2015 by Mulla Mulla Press.   He is also on the board of the Australian Haiku Society.

Pam Schindler is a Brisbane poet, and drew on memories of Moreton Island in writing this poem.  She is the author of one book of poems, A sky you could fall into (2010), and her work has been published in Australian journals including Meanjin, Hecate, Island, and Australian Poetry Journal.  She went to write in a Scottish castle as a Hawthornden Fellow in 2013.


Ashley Haywood is a writer, editor and poet. She has seen her creative and scholarly work published and performed in Australia and overseas. She recently received a PhD for her creative research thesis titled Harlequin Blue and The Picasso Experiment. Some of her most recent creative work appears in TEXT and Spineless Wonders’ anthology Out of Place. This ekphrasis poem belongs to a growing collection of iterations, another of which is forthcoming in Southerly. She is an Associate Editor at Rochford Street Review.