Monday musings on Australian literature: Poetry awards

Over recent months, I’ve devoted several Monday Musings to exploring various Australian literary festivals and awards. I was inspired to write this one on poetry awards by two things. The first is that during my recent exploration of Australian literature in the first few decades of the 20th century, and particularly of the 1927 plebiscite conducted of Argus readers in Melbourne in 1927, I became aware that as much if not more of the discussions about the results focused on the poets. It seems – but of course, my research is somewhat serendipitous – that poetry played a greater role in literary (and perhaps ordinary) life then, than it does now. I’d love to hear what others think – or know – about this (in Australia or their other countries).

And then, following close on the heels of my these ponderings, I received an email from Five Islands Press announcing their new poetry award, the Ron Pretty Poetry Prize, and asking me to spread the word through my blog. Now, my problem is that while I’m a big supporter of Australian literature, I don’t see myself as part of a formal publicity machine. I want to maintain some level of independence. However, given my recent thoughts about poetry in Australia and the fact that I haven’t yet written on poetry awards, I decided I could include this prize in a Monday Musings post on these awards. Make sense? I hope so!

The interesting thing about poetry prizes in Australia is that many of them are named for poets – far more so than the other specialised literary awards. I wonder why this is? Like other awards, though, they vary in their establishment and management, some being part of larger awards such as premier’s literary awards, some sponsored by writers’ organisations or festivals, and some by magazines or publishers.

I’m structuring this post a little differently to my other awards posts because they can be logically divided into fairly distinct categories. As always, of course, the list comprises just a selection. Here goes:

Lifetime achievement award

The best-known (and perhaps only) award in this category is the Christopher Brennan Award which is given annually to “a poet who has written work of sustained quality and distinction”. It is administered by the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Victoria), and has been awarded since 1974. The award is a plaque, rather than money. Previous winners include the big names of modern Australian poetry, such as Judith Wright, Les Murray, Bruce Dawe, Dorothy Porter and Geoff Page, some of whom I’ve reviewed on this blog.

Awards for poetry in book form

(Presumed Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

CJ Dennis, ca 1890s (Presumed Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

Some awards are made for individual poems (see below) while others are for poetry collections, or long poems that are published in book form. These awards include:

  • Anne Elder Award for a first book of poetry: established in 1977 and administered by FAW (Vic). The prize is currently $1,000.
  • CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry (part of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards): established in 1985. The prize is currently a cool $25,000.
  • Grace Leven Prize for Poetry for a volume of poetry by an Australian writer or a naturalised Australian of at least 10 years’ residence: established in 1947, so is one of the oldest awards. Its monetary prize is small, but it’s apparently highly regarded by poets and has been won by many of Australia’s best known poets.

Awards for poetry, limited by length

  • Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize for a single poem or “linked suite of poems” of up to 80 lines: established in 1996 and administered by Island Magazine. First prize is currently $2000, with two prizes of $500 able to be awarded at the judges’ discretion.
  • Peter Porter Poetry Prize for a poem of up to 100 lines: established by ABR (Australian Book Review) in 2005, and renamed to honour Peter Porter in 2010. There is a cash prize and publication in the ABR.
  • Ron Pretty Poetry Prize for a single poem of up to 30 lines, not limited by nationality: established in 2014 by Five Islands Press in the name of its founder, the poet Ron Pretty. The inaugural prize will be $5,000. There is an entry fee, and submissions are made online.

Awards for unpublished poetry

  • Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for an unpublished manuscript by a Queensland author: established in 2003 by Arts Queensland. The prize is currently $3,000 plus a publishing contract with UQP.
  • Val Vallis Award for an Unpublished Poem for a poem or suite of poems of up to 100 lines by an Australian writer: established around 2000 by Arts Queensland. The first prize is  $1,000, one week at the Writers’ Retreat at Varuna, and publication in Cordite Poetry Review.

And something a little different

Rather different to the above awards, and others of their ilk, is the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize. It is a biennial award that is offered alternately to enable an Australian poet to visit Ireland and to facilitate the visit of an Irish poet to Melbourne. Interesting, huh? Established in 1992, it commemorates the life and work of Buckley who was a poet, critic and Professor of English at the University of Melbourne and who loved both Australian and Irish poetry. The prize includes a return airfare, a contribution towards living expenses and an honorary fellowship at the University of Melbourne. The winner in 2002 was Cate Kennedy, well-known for her short stories and, as I’ve discovered, her poetry. She has also won the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry.

More awards are listed at Wikipedia. It’s not complete either, but it’s a start.

14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Poetry awards

  1. Hi WG

    Got your comment on Charlotte and replied but for some reason when I went to publish my brilliant thoughts disappeared. One reason may be that the comment box didn’t have my name as it does automatically on Blogger. I think this happened before. It’s like the early days of PCs and Macs, maybe. Anyway I did finish Blood Meridian… and talk about poetry! One of the grandest reading experiences of my life. Haven’t read much since because the after shocks are still coming and will definitely re-read it. It broke all the rules too, about plot, about characterisation, about ‘connecting’ but the language … utterly mesmerising. Biblical, Miltonic .. some of the words to attempt to describe it.

    • Hmmm … I don’t think that is totally Macs vs PCs as I think it has happened to me on WP blogs where I am known. One of those mysteries I think, but extremely irritating when it happens.

      Wow, that is a recommendation and a half … He is powerful. I haven’t read No country for old men but having seen the movie that’s another of his I’d like to read. I loved his The road … Very different, in terms of how much I read of BM, but spare, mesmerising, and provocative in its refusal to tell you much if anything about what, when, where, why … Pared absolutely down to the essentials.

      • That’s quite different from BM, which follows the movement of a gang of mercenaries fighting the Mexicans and Apaches in Mexican war of the 1840s and 50s. Based on a true story, though from reading you’d never know it. I found out from the old friend google.

  2. Makes perfect sense. Your problem is in having become seen as An Authority on all things Oz Lit, I think. Whereas, of course, you would prefer to be one on all things Lit !
    No: I’m wrong. You have no wish to be seen as An Authority on ANYTHING.
    Tant pis pour toi.

  3. Until this year, the ACT and region has had its own poetry prize. In a town and region thriving with poetry, this has been a valuable award. It seems to have quietly disappeared. (I hope I’m wrong but to date there’s been no announcement of the award for 2014.) The artsACT site simply says: This category is currently closed.

    • Thanks Lesley. Was that called the Judith Wright prize? I came across several Judith Wright poetry prizes (funny that, eh?) and I thought one was an ACT one BUT in the end I didn’t check it out. I wonder why it is closed because as you say poetry does seem to be very active here.

      • It was the David Campbell Award. The Judith Wright was (I think) the one for a published book of poetry and has also disappeared. As has the award for an unpublished poetry MS and the national individual poem. And all so quietly. These awards all attracted attention in the poetry community and were a significant part of the poetry world.

        • Oh I didn’t know all that Lesley … what a shame. I know some writers have mixed or even negative feelings about awards but they do bring money and publicity and that’s a good thing. Because “art” is so subjective, I like it when the awards get shared around a bit amongst our great writers.

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