Queensland Poetry Festival’s Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award, now in its fourth year, is named after one of Australia’s premier art dealers, Philip Bacon. All the paintings used in the competition are personally selected by Philip from his own collection. 

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 twelve lines in length.

This year’s judges were Freja Carmichael and Nathan Shepherdson. First prize went to Philip Neilsen, with Jeffery Harpeng as runner up.

Congratulations to the winning poets and thanks to Queensland Poetry Festival for allowing Verity La to publish their poems and the artworks that inspired them.

A painting of an angel lying on an  operating table in hospital surrounded by doctors performing surgery

Lisa Adams, ‘Inquisition’, 2016, oil on canvas


The Art of Flying (Philip Neilsen) 

In response to ‘Inquisition’ by Lisa Adams

The sky had asked no questions 
so she flourished as a connoisseur 
of clouds and their non-judgemental drift.
Such power provoked science to investigate,                                                      
operate on this incongruity – a woman who flew.
They called it rehabilitation, to x-ray the deviant in                       
those extravagant feathers. But even pinned to a gurney 
her plumage took on the earth sigh of energy, rejected      
the counterfeit of plastic gowns, empyrean sheets. 
In anaesthetic dream she signals her intent:
the pulse sensor flicks from a forefinger,                     
wings curve to the morning updraft.         

Judges’ comments: a striking and cohesive poem honed to its subject. It achieves a fluent synthesis in leaving its own words behind to re-translate itself into a sequence of resonant images that can only nourish its reader.

Joy Hester, ‘Girl with dog’, 1957, watercolour and ink on paper and board


Girl with Dog (Jeffery Harpeng)

In response to ‘Girl with Dog’ by Joy Hester

With dog warmth as her pillow
she floats out of her self;
crushes through undergrowth
brushing cricket chirps
into silence; stalking through
autumn twilight’s amber
and ember bruise, darkening
in to an autumn night.
She comes to a pause, echoes
the tremor of her dog growling
at something in a dream. 

Judges’ comments: A poem that adheres to the notion of strength through simplicity. It is filled with quiet, evocative music that skillfully sifts its words through its overall purpose.

Philip Neilsen is a poet, author and editor who has published sixteen books. Wildlife of Berlin is his sixth collection of poetry. He teaches poetry & poetics at the University of Queensland and is adjunct professor of creative writing at QUT. His work has been translated into various languages including Chinese, German and Korean and his poetry has been included in prestigious anthologies. His awards include an Australian Notable Book Award and a Writers Fellowship from the Australia Council.

Jeffrey Harpeng’s publishing record currently looks more archival than like fresh produce. His obsession over the last few years has been hound dogging peasant lineages buried in the four corners of Germany, sniffing out those lives and Australian arrivals between 1855 and 1913. Parallel poetic and prose renderings of their remaining tales have arisen, ghosts putting on a skin of words. One such tale, Fever and After, was short listed in the Australian Catholic University 2016 poetry contest.