Sue Wootton wins 2015 International Poetry Prize


First prize of $500 in the fifth annual Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize for 2015 has been won by Dunedin poet Sue Wootton, for her poem ‘Luthier’. Second prize ($250) was awarded to Jessica le Bas, of Nelson, for ‘Four Photographs from a Window’.

Alexandra poet Michael Harlow, who judged the competition, said in his report that ‘Luthier’ was ‘a poem alive in its language’ and ‘a fine pleasure to read aloud’; and he described the second-prize-winning poem as ‘a poem of celebration, accurate to its truth-telling’.

Mr Harlow listed six further entries as highly-commended. The poets are Carolyn McCurdie (Dunedin), Jillian Sullivan (Omakau), Michael Morrissey (Auckland), Karen Zelas (Christchurch), and Pat White (Fairlie).

The two winning entries will be published in the literary journal Landfall in May, and all of the award-winning poems will then appear on the Caselberg Trust website.

Around two hundred entries are received each year for the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Competition, from writers working in a number of different countries. Entries are judged ‘blind’, with the judge being completely unaware of the poets’ identities until after the final decisions have been made.

The prize-winning poems and the judge’s report will be published in the May issue of Landfall, and along with the highly commended poems, will be posted on the Caselberg Trust web-site. Awards will be presented at a function in Dunedin in April.

Past winners of the Caselberg competition include Mary McCallum from Wellington, Tim Upperton from Palmerston North, and Brian Turner in 2014. Previous judges have been poets Bernadette Hall, James Brown, Gregory O’Brien and Sue Wootton herself.

The Caselberg Trust was established eight years ago to establish the former home of writer John Caselberg and his wife, the painter Anna Caselberg as a residence for writers and artists of all descriptions. The Trust also runs residencies, workshops, exhibitions, competitions and innovative arts events for the wider Dunedin community.


Winning Poem by Sue Wootton


He has the guitar in mind. In his quake-rocked studio he leans

over the quiet grain. Listen: rain falling on Vancouver Island.
Six flitches of Sitka spruce with which to summon sound.

This spruce conducted breeze and storm for centuries,
never knew a day to pass in silence, recognised her guests
by footfall and by wing-rush: squirrel scurry, spiral of ants

on the sap route, beaks and claws and paws, all that
patter and flutter and slink. Summer-heated cones clicked
open, slow-baked, while the high tips waltzed

close to the sun; and in blind winter the whole tree
threshed, screaming Alaska at the gale until the branches
bowed to the weight of a white, creaking shush. This

for a thousand thousand moons. A brief age then:
of rumbling, of shouts and engines and a bedrock shimmering
that teased loose the grip of roots, and briefer still

the day and very brief the act and when the act was done, the wood
was mute. He splits each flitch and pauses. He hears the stuck
scratch of needle-sharp leaves upon a long-gone sky.

He has the guitar in mind and in hand. He leans over the polished
grain. He loves the shape of her, he loves her song. Listen:
rain falling on Vancouver Island. His fingers threading strings.


Jessica le Bas


Ida Valley – early morning

The first is a shot in the dark,
buttoned up and black suited
One flash finds night before daybreak
Dawn is a rich merchant in an alleyway

The second shot
in monochrome, like a century aged; before
the thought of light. All is shadow
and suggestion. A cliff face. A fist of trees

Like a shot, the third
undresses the tussocky flat, bare
to the river’s dark cleft. Naked and pink
and blushing. They lie, reconciling

The fourth is a gunshot wedding party
Garlands and lace; birds caught in a madness
of violins. There is a warm bride rising. A bouquet
shot through with gold and sunlight
in flight, above the Hawkduns.


Carolyn McCurdie


He is small. His voice
so soft that sometimes
we think we dream what he says
and pass it from one to the other.

You are a wind sent from the ice, he tells us.
In you is air, shaped to be held like pain
in the mouth and then given. Hold this song
on the warmth of your tongue. Count two beats. Let go.

He never shouts or frowns
or even complains. But on hard days
his hands fall, his cheeks sag and we tilt,
lean towards him, to sing further, be more.

Breathe, he says, breathe. You are thousand year
meditations. You are rock on a journey
from magma to star dust, to circling back.
Give me force. And then stop. Give me stillness.

Sometimes he weeps. We weep
because he is weeping. He has
no teeth. So when his mouth opens
in laughter, it’s joy uncontained.

Then a song. On some days we sing the last note
and it’s there. Air above us re-shaped. Like a bird
from the mist. Like an invisible web that holds dew
that holds light. For no more than a heartbeat.


Jillian Sullivan

Molecular knowhow

Wind again, the clouds fused
over Blackstone Hill. Even snow
the paper says. The tussock flicks like hair.

Does the grass know?
Do the apple trees and flax?
Do they unfurl their sap

send it down, singing
into the earth and wait
like soldiers

for what is out there,
for what comes over
the trenches?

The willows by the Ida,
cracked from old storms,
brace with roots that sprawl

and the hawthorns
blaze with berries.
Everything holds on.

Here, we call the plumber
when pipes burst, when gutters fail.
Our rigid structures.

Oh we try,
we rely on the news
to tell us what to do.

In the meantime
even the timothy, the cocksfoot, the rye,
even the hawkweed, the lupins are graced

with cellular knowledge
on how to behave
when a storm rocks out of the west.

How to withstand.
And do they also hold
the knowledge of survival?

How on Wednesday
the sun will again
paint light across the Hawkduns

and shine
through strands of tussock,
turn them silver.


Michael Morrissey


As I dreamt of flying higher than a pylon,
my mother shook me awake to save my mind

from being moonstruck. Forty years
later I was seduced by lunar enthral –

madder than a snake minus its head
but on fire with fever

by spending a thousand dollars
on books about the war in Russia:

a lunatic notion of world conquest.
Adolph’s mother did not draw the drapes.


Karen Zelas


1) Silence

not a word said
between here and there

cloud-sharks snap at the feet
of elephants

the atmosphere muffles
baffles, draws sound into


is as clear
as the chime of a bellbird

2) Solitude

together alone
shoulder beyond shoulder
diminishing blue

alone together

a speck of meteor dust
in the eye of a gecko

3) Space

horizon by day

at night the black beyond blue
the pulse of distance

skinless merging

within, stars press out

how many fairies slide
down a camel or moonbeams
navigate the narrows?

4) Stillness

in the wake of the wind
a sharp intake

the ocean reflective
exhales, inhales

even when running
I’m still

Jillian Sullivan

West wind

I love the way that man
appears, rain-jewelled,
green swandri, boulders
in his hands, stays

wind fierce out of the west,
taurpulins shunted.
His rain-blurred face, our
aching fingers

won’t settle for anything
less than the best rocks
can do, or wood, clay
to weigh things down.

What we desire has nothing
to do with the brevity
of existence or
making things safe.

It’s how to face the wind
with supple stride
and whatever sacred
comes out of this.


Pat White


fences delineate this place and that
the fence, see, along the top rail
one bare foot past the other, placed to
seek neither one side nor the centre, just
grace and balance in each step, like so

eyes focus ahead, the risky glance
aside no option to be taken on a day
like the one we have on offer, blossom
heavy on the bough, asphalt melting
and the old dog prone on a porch next door

see that top rail painted to stop the rot
no place to be caught fencing with shadows
hedging your bets by sitting on the fence
after all it is risk enough to wake at dawn
today there is no choice, trust each step, then

when it happens, as it will, fall with grace
for in grace petals flutter to the earth
as we all do, hoping someone may be there
no longer on the fence, but able to place us
secretly, between pages of a secret book

Chloe Geoghegan