The co-winners of the 2022 Anne Elder Award are Harry Reid with Leave Me Alone (Cordite Books, 2022) and Theodore Ell with Beginning In Sight (RWP, 2022).
Thank you also to our judges this year – Gig Ryan, Ella Jeffery and Marjan Mossammaparast, for their incredible effort judging what was an enormous amount of first book entries, in a notably powerful year.
See below for the judges’ comments.
Congratulations also to the three Highly Commended works: No Camellias by Rebecca Cheers (Rabbit Books, 2022), Pressed Specimens by Moya Costello (Beir Bua Press 2022), and At the Altar of Touch by Gavin Yuan Gao (UQP, 2022).
General Comments from 2022 Award judges Gig Ryan, Marjan Mossammparast and Ella Jeffery:
This year’s entries for the Anne Elder Award included a broad range of subject matter: colonialism, racism, elegy, feminism, identity, ecology. Historical figures were resurrected to probe our collective past, fragile environments and ecosystems were conjured, preserved in a defiant optimism. Styles varied greatly from the quietly conventional, bound in elegy and memory and occasionally strict poetic form, to pastiche, to radical forthright protest, to scattered experimentalism, to ‘found’ poems drawn from the everyday or from primary historical sources. What was distinctive in the Winners and Commended titles, although extraordinarily different, was that these first books shared an overall consistency of accomplishment throughout; they were able to sustain the peaks of their best poems.
Theodore Ell: Beginning In Sight
(Recent Work Press)
As its title illustrates, Ell’s ‘Beginning In Sight’ works through accumulation of visual detail as the primary mode of perception, following in the vein of Robert Gray as well as the subtleties of Gary Catalano’s prose poems, in which image acquires reflection. These tightly-bound yet lilting lyrical poems rarely state but rather imply meaning, fastidiously stacked with the nuances of history and the wrench of memory: ‘now you have gone where only poems can follow’, ‘when the house and land were sold / and upbringing parcelled away’. Narrative winds through Ell’s intricately allusive landscapes of loss, transformation, and insight. In assured concise language, often strained through the poetic tools of assonance and alliteration, crisply elegiac perceptions develop like film: ‘the shielding stance of the waves, ushering islands away’, ‘meadows in mastered sunlight’. Among these studies, colonialism and conquest are also quietly upbraided in ‘American Misgivings’: ‘for we came of a great unending sermon / and weren’t used to being interrupted.’
Harry Reid: Leave Me Alone
Reid’s ‘Leave Me Alone’ is a critically amusing excursion through the Kafka-esque life of an office worker, playing desultorily with the absurdist jargon of acronyms and regular minatory assessments. It notates an infernal picture of the dissolving demarcations between work and life through the worker’s meanderings and consumerism, curtailed contemplations, interruptions, and online escapes into social activities and art – ‘I’ve turned the spare room into an office / work on the bus turned the bus into an office / turned the commute into work…turn your couch into an office / turn lunch into work / turn kids into work…turned my phone into an office’. Reid deconstructs the co-dependent relationship of labour and subjectivity, attuned to the artifice and necesssity of disguise, while aping and fracturing the language of bureaucracy. These poems, hammered in the realpolitik of casual employment, out-wit those economical tethers by simultaneously taking imaginative flight that ultimately energises into subversive and thoughtful resistance.
Rebecca Cheers: No Camellias
A slant-wise investigation into the era and attitudes surrounding poet Christopher Brennan’s daughter and her early death, Cheers cleverly portrays the restrictions and punishments foisted on women beneath the haze of bohemia, through use of dramatic monologue and historic sources.
Moya Costello: Pressed Specimens
(Beir Bua Press)
Costello’s densely descriptive prose poems form an imaginative, highly conceptual work that moves each specimen into correlation and allusion. In welding science with poetry, she reveals the tentative, often imperceptible connections between us and Other, to construct meaning and attribute place.
Gavin Yuan Gao: At the Altar of Touch
(University of Queensland Press)
Gao’s poems, densely wreathed in metaphor, partly enact a journey through identity, scorched by mourning, across their inherited cultures. Paintings and music leak into life, as these poems salvage remnants of time, forming hymnal epiphanies embossed with, and haunted by, history.