Judging the EMSLA Still Life poetry competition, December 2014

Judging the EMSLA Still Life poetry competition, December 2014

The Eutick Memorial Still Life Award is a highlight of the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery’s calendar and has become highly regarded. It is a prize for a genre that is not seen as cutting edge, quite the opposite.

This year for the first time there was a poetry competition which I judged.

There were entries that were fun, that took you on a journey using a painting as a jumping off point, but I was looking for poems that worked with the painting and that made me think or feel differently about the work.

Three age groups

1. 5-12 years old

Quite a stretch in language ability in this category, so I awarded 2 prizes. One to our youngest entrant, Blake aged 6, a poem about Maryanne Wick’s, ‘The nest’.

I like the cat’s shadow picture
because I worry about the magpie.

If poetry is ever about truth and feeling, here is an example.

There were some special entries from primary school kids, but I warded the prize to Josh for a poem based on Georgie Lucock’s ‘Untitled (skull)’

The paper skull lay forgotten and burnt.
It lay there stuck between pictures.
One half into the mountain and dying.

It is a strange unsettling poem that plays with the reality of a work of art, from a real ram’s skull to a paper to mountains – an epic feel in three lines.

2. 13-18 years old

We had no entries. I think people of a certain age are nervous of poetry, which is a shame. Sometimes the way poems are treated is the cause, seen as difficult, puzzles to be solved, often of no obvious bearing to lives of the students. Next year we may just ask for writing about the art work and leave unspecified, poem or prose.

3. 19 & upwards

Some very interesting poems were entered in this range, and it was hard to choose a winner.

A poem by Sally Ross, Catch of the day, was highly commended for its wit and take on a small painting by Troy Argyros, ‘Catch of the day’ which depicts a fish snug inside a condom.

The wining poem by Joanna Thirsk explores childhood memories of the seaside, from a painting of specimens in jars, Louise Feneley, ‘Preserving Brighton, 1955’. But from this nostalgia jumped to the now and how one’s way of seeing such objects have been coloured by exposure to modern art and Damien Hirst’s shark (called The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. 1991). The poem finishes on a great line and is an example of art being a catalyst for art. The arts should interplay.

Preserving, Brighton 1955_painting
Louise Feneley, Preserving, Brighton 1955

Louise Feneley’s painting was also the one I chose to write about and I am not sure why. I do like the work, but I think I chose this picture because it reminded me of when I was poet in residence at the Macleay Museum, Sydney writing about specimens stuffed or pickled. I hadn’t read the title when I chose the work, but the mind takes in much more than consciousness admits to. It also so happens that I was born in 1955 and brought up near Brighton, Sussex.


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