A poem forty years in the making has won Tim Collins the 2017 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize. The Brisbane poet and playwright attended the USQ Bookcase event for the presentation of the National Poetry Prize and recital of the winning poem Stage Whispers at USQ Toowoomba.
“Stage Whispers is a poem that has germinated over the past 40 years,” Mr Collins said. “Many poems just occur. This one hung in the back of my mind taunting me for decades.”
Mr Collins is the author of seven volumes of poetry and the short story collection Until A Shrimp Learns To Whistle. “Winning the 2017 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize was an honour because of its prestige and importance in the Australian Poetry scene,” he said.
The poem topped 975 entries to win this year’s Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, established in 1999 to honour one of Australia’s most popular and influential poets. Emeritus Professor Bruce Dawe AO was also named USQ’s first Honorary Professor in recognition of his contribution to the University.
The Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize judging panel included USQ School of Arts and Communication lecturers Associate Professor Laurie Johnson, Dr Jessica Gildersleeve, Dr Nike Sulway, Dr Daniel Hourigan and Dr Sharon Bickle. Associate Professor Johnson said the judging panel looked for poems that opened with a strong image or emotion, developed this idea through engaging soundscapes and sustained interest through to a close that left the reader with a powerful lasting image.
“Mr Collins produced a poem that has all of these hallmarks to it – the subject of the poem is never identified explicitly and yet the poet draws the reader into an experience of the subject’s life from his connection to the old theatre,” Associate Professor Johnson said. “This connection forces us to reconsider the matter-of-factness of the opening line, where the stage is mentioned as the scene of his death, adding poignancy.
“While it is free verse, the poem is structured in such a way that this after-the-fact emotional kick is reinforced – lines begin with one phonic pattern, setting up a rhythmic expectation, but then are routinely interrupted by a reversal of the pattern,” Associate Professor Johnson said.
The head judge said the formal features of the poem disappeared from view due to the rich descriptions of the man, distilling his life into a few brief illustrative encounters. “These ‘stage whispers’ that give the poem its name, tied together the stage, its dust and the moth that has taken up residence by the end.”
To read Stage Whispers and other entries visit: www.usq.edu.au/bela/school-of-arts-and-communication/bruce-dawe-poetry-prize