Burdening a poetry contest with a theme such as “Environmentalism” is certain to set up problems for poets hoping to win the prize. In the case of the Venie Holmgren Environmental Poetry Prize, the pitfalls were readily evident to the judges. Writers quickly embraced issues such as bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, or the peril faced by various specious of bird, mammal and butterfly, or degradation of air quality, or proliferation of plastic bags. Few writers were able to rise above the polemics, or to imbue their chosen cause with an affecting personal voice or technical bravura.
The two judges had little difficulty coming to the conclusion that “How to Write an Environmental Poem” stood out as a remarkable literary accomplishment. It approaches the topic with a certain touch of ironic humour and uses the theme not to bemoan the obvious local or global hazards but rather to celebrate the glory and beauty of the natural world in both its micro and macrocosmic manifestations. The poem builds gradually throughout, with crescendos and decrescendos of emotional response to a final, beautifully stated warning about the fragility of the planet.
The judges were impressed, through repeated readings, with many breath-taking, gorgeous, freshly-minted metaphors, i.e. “And it must be sensual in its seasons / Licked by the wet tongues of calving beasts” OR “Write your poem, then, / In ink red as the fox’s bloodied paws”. The poet shows commendable command of the formal mechanics that create a poem’s aesthetic: assonance, inner rhyme, rhythmic pattern, etc., and does so without ever succumbing to jingoism or pedantry. The poem is lush, sounds wonderful, seems deeply felt, is well sustained over some distance, and in almost every way fulfils the theme and captivates the reader.
The judges did not, of course, know the authors of the poetry submissions, but here today are pleased to say that the winner of the Venie Holmgren Environmental Poetry Prize goes to the author of “How To Write An Environmental Poem,” Lynn Sunderland. We feel certain that Venie Holmgren herself would have cherished this poem.
Two other poems also impressed the judges for their technical refinement, subtlety, and convincing emotional control. We would thus like to award Honourable Mention to “Hygrocybe at the Market” by Anne Gleeson, and “Sonnet to a Gumnut” by Frances Paterson.
Richard Perry + Bronwyn Blaiclock, August 2016