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2011 Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize

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A View Through Open Windows

The Judge’s Report

Bernadette Hall writes:

It’s an odd expression isn’t it, to be the ‘judge’ of a poetry competition. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last months, reading and rereading the 237 poems entered in this year’s Caselberg Poetry Competition and frankly, I’m reluctant to admit that I’ve ‘judged’ anything. Not in the sense of putting on a black cap and banging away with a gavel, you pass, you fail, off to the colonies, off with your head.

I’ve decided I’d rather be called a chooser. It’s as if I’ve been invited into a series of small rooms, 237 of them, and it’s up to me to choose the ones in which I’d like to set up house for a while.

Some rooms are plush, some are spare; some are draped in funereal black; some are like confessional boxes; in others people and creatures, rivers and trees dance and sing even though the walls are a bit wonky and there’s an odd knocking in the antiquated plumbing. My favourite rooms, a whole clutch of them, are fresh and surprising. They’re well built, there’s flair and imaginative energy in their making. The world looks replenished through their windows.

To be highly commended in a competition like this is no mean feat. I want to congratulate the five poets who find themselves in this position and thank them for the depth, excellence and freshness of their work. As for the two rooms that I finally decided to set up house in, they were in a word, irresistible. Here is some of my thinking.

‘After Reading Auden’ by Mary McCallum is ambitious. It hooks itself into a literary context. Where Auden’s sun is ‘incurious’, this poem is full of curiosity: about the river, the light, the landscape. There’s story and memory here, and best of all, a patient, deepening re-creation of experience, what it feels like to be, for a moment or two, truly alive.

‘home to you’ by Michele Amas, is wicked, there’s no doubt about that. It’s also elegant and quick and clever. You have to be alert as you’re jumped from line to line. Above all it’s an audacious love poem, circling, gathering, exploding in that unforgettable last line.

Congratulations to the Caselberg Trust. You’ve teased out a lively and interesting run of new work and that has to be good for NZ poetry.

After Reading Auden

by Mary McCallum

The river we swim
fresh from the horses, under
the sun he calls ‘incurious’,
becomes a man’s body reclining –
its current, muscular,
its translucent depths, flesh.
And we are in deep, held tight
at the shoulders, hips, wrists,
wrapped by arms yielding and
not yielding.

From the very first coming down
into the new valley, we felt the force
of the river’s intimacy, its deep
soundless need – not sour,
not shiftless, but lucid, expressive,
sweet. The leaping light from the cliffs,
the unexpected greenness of trees,
the harrier on thermal air, broom pods
popping in the heat, and we, the girls and I,

At last, we pull away, God knows how,
and climb up through the truffle-dark
horses and yellow broom to the hill-top,
and we pause there and look
back at the river stretching its limbs,
arching its back, its mouth
a soundless ‘o’ of green ecstasy.
And slowly,
so slowly, limb by limb,
we dry the water from our faithless skin.

Photo credit: Steve Ting

Earlier Event: December 20
2010 School Poetry Prize