2019 Venie Holmgren Prize Judge’s Report

Winner
Hailey Bonner – God instructs His Angels to Burn the Notre Dame

Commended
Kristen Lang – A Heart Like This
A. Frances Johnson – The Poem After Forests

 

WINNER
God Instructs His Angels to Burn the Notre Dame
The melomys is a tiny rodent once native to the remote far island of the Torres Strait, Bramble Cay. It is the first species on the planet known to have become extinct due to human induced climate change. Senseless destruction? Who can speak for it now? Perhaps only God can.
Notre Dame burned almost to the ground, all but its stone walls left standing, on 15 April 2019. A senseless catastrophe? An uncanny night of judgement on the state of the human soul? An opportunity to re-assert what matters?

This poem brings a sense of human and planetary crisis to the fore as well as a voice that plays with anger, vehemence, perspective and meaning. Its semi-biblical formality of tone, its shocking equation of one kind of violence with another, its majestic stepping-through the sins of humanity from a perspective so divine it is well outside institutionalised religion, and in particular its short unforgiving set of instructions to those angels go to making this poem almost a physical object thrown at us to wake us up. How could we not only award this poem a prize for its role in saying what matters for the planet, but also give it to as many readers as possible?

COMMENDED
A Heart Like This
This poem goes like a river through us and beats with a strong heart through each turn it takes. We admired the looseness of the lines that hold to an imagery of time, flow, natural elements, river life, but most importantly pointing to the ways we have exhausted our rivers on this continent where water has always been such a scarce and crucial resource. As with all powerful poems it is a poem not easy to summarise. In those final phrases skin, stone, time, sand, rivers bring an un-completed story of not just one life but life itself into our awareness. This is a bravely meandering poem that goes somewhere deep.

The Poem After Forests
This is a cruelly brilliant poem that takes us whimsically into the future through a trick of tense but leaves us there seeing what must happen: the myths of the forest and the politics of water will be matters for nostalgia if we keep on the path of destruction we seem as a species to be unable to veer from. To imagine that desks are the only memory we might have of trees, and that there might truly be nothing to drink when we think of water is to face something that is both alice-in-wonderland-ish and all too real. Every line in this poem is worth stopping over in for a while.

 

Kevin Brophy and Claire Coleman, Judges