2021 Winner

Poetry Selector’s Report by Peter Burges

I acknowledge the Wadjak Noonga people as the traditional custodians of this land upon which we are meeting, and pay my respects to elders past and present.

The Creative Connections Exhibition and Anthology 2021 provides a gourgeous kaleidescope of art and poetry, a feast of forms, colours, rhythms and tones through which our imaginations can explore different aspects of seeing.

I feel most honoured to be asked to select the best poem in the collection. However, given that I find it impossible to fully escape my biases, I prefer to present my selection, not as authoritative, but as an opinion hopefully worthy of consideration.

I did, however, try to be objective, to quietly accompany the poems as they explored the paintings and figures, expounded upon their ‘hiddens’, and in ‘speaking about’  the visual (ekphrasis), compete to become works of art themselves.

I therefore worked through the entire collection several times, then shortlisted to twenty, ten, and the following five (and here no ranking is implied):

The Mountain Dreams by Nathan Hondros

Life Drips Colour by Keren Gila Raiter

Does Fantasy Cast a Shadow? by Leonard James

Ballet with Saxophone & Bicycle Bells by Shey Marque

and Secrets by Jan Napier.

In the end, I settled upon Leonard James’s Does Fantasy Cast a Shadow? which I will read to you first and then explain why it is my choice.

[Disclosure: Leonard and I are friends, so I considered excluding his poems. However, I decided that would simply be squibbing on my part, and unfair to Leonard. Besides, several other contributing poets are friends too—it could hardly be otherwise in Perth—and I could not exclude them all.]

And now for Leonard’s poem:

This poem provides much for our imaginations to explore, and is sufficiently strong to stand free of Clint Carter’s painting, Untitled, but also is enhanced when viewed alongside.

The poem’s opening question, Does fantasy cast a shadow?, works to immediately position us to consider the shown and hidden in Clint’s painting.

The poem then progresses steadily toward the final line: the outside-in of world in which inversion of the usual ‘inside out’ acts both to suggest an answer, and to leave us wondering for more.

And as the poem moves softly/gently forward—it is replete with sibilants—it takes up several of the painting’s thematic touchstones: Icarus wings referencing the feathers (suggestive of flight/motion, and in being green, of hope perhaps), but in being only feathers, bringing to mind other themes: absence (Icarus is gone or hidden?), ‘brokenness’, destruction, and death (the clock appears to be broken, the yellow looks like blobs scattering, the vertical lines can be seen as dripping, and is that blood on the wall?).

Through cogs of clocks, sundogs skirting periphery, unchartered dragons, the poem then takes up the internality and darkness in the painting (cogs, the hidden ‘innards’ of machinery, the clock is black, and is that a window revealing darkness outside?). The poem also focuses upon the theme of absence through periphery (of what?), afterthought (what thought?), fingerprint (whose?) all of which is also suggested by the feathers, and the painting’s ‘flying apart’.

Then, with a blooming, looming—kind of/ ballooning, the poem returns to motion which, in both painting and poem, is explosive (movement outward), and fluid (vertical lines, yellow blobs), but also caught in stasis, inevitably since we are viewing both a painting and words held by a page, but also intrinsically given the broken clock is suspended within a particular time and space, within the outside-in of world.

And we too, as readers and viewers, are both being continually moved and yet held within the stasis and motion of both poem and painting, held and centred between clock and feathers, in a world that is dark and explosive, but also full of magic, and of challenge (unchartered dragons, mythic feats, fountaining youth), a world in which asking Does fantasy cast a shadow? makes perfect sense.

Peter Burges