Queensland Poetry Festival’s Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award, now in its third 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 of under 12 lines in length.
This year’s Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award judges were Nathan Shepherdson and Michele Seminara. First prize went to Dael Allison, second prize to Magdalena Ball, and Joe Dolce and Maddie Godfrey were highly commended.
The judges commented that ‘because the award is for a twelve line poem, its constraint can be both a challenge and an advantage. This is counterbalanced by the fact that the poets have five paintings on offer as their subject. For the poet and reader this allows a multiple lane approach.
All the shortlisted poems are works whose sum is greater than their descriptive parts. It’s not a simple process to make successful poetry from artworks that are already high calibre images of self sufficiency. The insight and contemplation of the poet invites us to step inside and outside of each frame.
This was particularly evident in the case of Dael Allison’s winning poem, ‘Gethsemane, Bribie Island 1958’, which impressed the judges by responding not only to the artwork, but to the life of artist Ian Fairweather.
The judges were struck by the analogies Allison’s poem drew between the last reclusive years Fairweather spent on Queensland’s Bribie Island, and Christ’s final night spent praying in the garden of Gethsemane. This multi-layered approach was what ultimately set the 1st prize winning poem apart.’
Congratulations to the shortlisted and winning poets, and thanks to Queensland Poetry Festival for allowing Verity La to publish the poems and artworks that inspired them.
Gethsemane, Bribie Island 1958 (Dael Allison)
after ‘Gethsemane’ by Ian Fairweather
evening draws sludge-grey over bribie’s huts and bungalows. soon men will lie
in attitudes of the dead, night a purpose to give themselves up to. all day black
cockatoos – yellow-tailed and red – gossiped in the island pines, cracked cones
hard as olive pits, dropped them to the sand. sharp points pierce my naked feet.
how to convey geometries of this lonely place, trampled paths, grubs burrowing
oblivious under bark. can abandonment be measured on cardboard? lamp-light
makes time and colour fugitive, load the brushes before the kerosene runs out.
paint an offering, a chalice of wine or blood, poisoned in hindsight. all things
can be renounced: jam-jar, row-boat, life – that grand obsession. escape fades
into distance. mopokes hoot three denials, no knowing if they watch, or sleep.
line and resolve circle and meet at the point of surrender, marked with a cross.
Agony in the Garden (Magdalena Ball)
after ‘Gethsemane’ by Ian Fairweather
it’s here, just this spot, soft breath of life against my cheek, insistent, the way you
break into angles against my hips, your lips moving unwilling through the maze
darkness comes from within, inherent, so when night finally arrives, this grove of
olive trees resolves to lines and shapes, your eyes shaded by the weight
blood tears, the world broken into abstraction, there is nothing I wouldn’t do now
scale the walls you’ve placed around yourself, find you in the spaces the cracks
where starlight bends, where nothing is visible, not even your face, sensing only
the edge of your jaw, your shrugging shoulders, thin as a ruler’s edge, tortured
into the confines of an ever repeating death, waiting, slipping, your prayer
layered in green tissue, envy, solace, and just this spot, waiting always for
another word, another breath, the trees creak sweet agony, soft, ready to submit
Homage to Shead (Joe Dolce)
after ‘Homage to Rembrandt’ by Garry Shead
Come now, Erato, and I’ll tell you, not
of Matthew’s angel, Jacob’s wrestling,
the Shepherds’ vision, or old Abraham’s
entertainments, departures from Tobit
and Tobias; nor will you see phantoms
of the Master’s darkness, the three of four
children dead (with their mother), seductions
of nurse and maid, the pauper’s burial;
not chiaroscuro’s light and umbra,
but Boyd’s Tinkerbell muse, held by a leg,
the painter’s eyes closed, about to be slapped,
Saskia/Judith watching at the door.
Three Winters (Maddie Godfrey)
after LS06, by Michael Zavros
I am not thinking about his hands, only how promises turn cold
like forgotten tea cups on bedside tables. I am thinking about
all the warmth I have held without knowing its shape, how empty
palms wait like tarmac. I lost so many lovers like house keys
I stopped locking the door. Knew that the wind would prove itself
a companion, of sorts. I am not thinking about those Roman remains,
excavated skeletons still holding hands after two thousand years.
two thousand winters. I am not thinking about you as skeleton,
all the ways you remain. I’d invite scars of soil beneath my fingernails
just to excavate the shape of your hands. it has been three winters.
Too Late for Taxidermy (Joe Dolce)
after LS06, by Michael Zavros
No nerves, arteries or veins,
no Versace, dressage or pretty boys,
Lion Skull Number Six,
free of bare ass,
stares outward, turbinate bones
of nasal cavity,
once enhancing a hunter’s sense,
now immune to cologne,
bodiless, six hundred pound bite,
hearthole in the head,
bone bowling ball trophy.
Dael Allison is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and editor who is undertaking a Doctorate in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. Her research focus is the literature of the Hunter region, and her creative project a short-story cycle based in the region. She has won prizes for poetry and essay, including the Wildcare International Essay prize. Her Masters in Creative Arts at UTS (2012) researched modernist painter Ian Fairweather. The result was a volume of poetry, Fairweather’s Raft, published by Walleah Press in 2012. In 2014 eleven of Dael’s Fairweather poems featured in a soundscape in the ABC’s Poetica program. She has also had two poetry chapbooks published by Picaro Press (2010 and 2013).
Magdalena Ball is editor-in-chief of Compulsive Reader and is the author of several published books of poetry and fiction. Her latest novel is Black Cow (Bewrite Books) and her latest poetry collection is Unmaking Atoms (Ginninderra Press).
Maddie Godfrey is an Australian-bred performance poet, writer and theatre maker. At 22 she has performed at the Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, The Bowery Poetry Club and Glastonbury Festival 2017. Maddie was recently a writer-in-residence at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. She is not a morning person. For more information visit Maddie at her website or on Facebook.
Joe Dolce was born in the USA and moved to Australia in 1979. He is a singer, songwriter, composer, essayist, poet, and the writer and performer of the most successful Australian song in history, ‘Shaddap You Face’, which went to number 1 in fifteen countries. He is the winner of the 2017 University of Canberra Health Poetry Prize, with an 8-part choral libretto, and was long-listed for 2017 University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize. He was shortlisted for both the Newcastle Poetry Prize and Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize in 2014, and was the winner of the 25th Launceston Poetry Cup. His poetry has appeared in Best Australian Poems 2015 & 2014, and has been published in Meanjin, Monthly, Southerly, Cordite, The Canberra Times, Quadrant, Australian Poetry Journal, Not Shut Up (UK), North of Oxford (US), and Antipodes (US). Joe is a recipient of the Advance Australia Award. He is presently on staff at the Australian Institute of Music teaching Composition (with special emphasis on setting poetry-to-music). His latest book, On Murray’s Run (Ginninderra Press), comprising 150 poems and song lyrics selected by Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry winner Les Murray, will be launched on Oct 14, at Collected Works in Melbourne. For information visit Joe’s website.