Poets from the ACT region have long punched above their weight, going back at least far as A.D. Hope.
Evidence they are still thriving came with the announcements of two major poetry prize winners, both from the ACT region.
Canberran Geoff Page won the Australian Catholic University Prize for Poetry, valued at $10,000, for his entry Jericho on the chosen 2020 theme of Generosity.
The Canberra Times‘s poetry editor Judith Nangala Crispin, who lives near Lake George, won the $5000 Blake Poetry Prize 2020 for On Finding Charlotte in the Anthropological Record.
In the ACU competition, the $5000 second prize went to Footprints by Fiona Lynch from Elwood in Victoria and the $3000 third prize to Atlas Carried the World by Damen O’Brien from Wynnum in Queensland. Professor Chris Wallace-Crabbe selected the winners from a shortlist of 45 chosen by others from more than 400 submitted poems. Judging for the competition is completed in a blind format to ensure impartiality.
Page, 80, has been a poet for more than 50 years. He said winning the ACU prize “feels very good for a number of reasons. One is that a prize is very hard to win, there’s luck involved, you have to be in it to win it, work at it over time.”
It is not the first time Page has been a finalist in the awards: he took out second prize in 2019 and first prize in 2017.
Jericho was, Page said, “a retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan”.
The poem, he said, “runs just short of 80 lines and is told in first person from the point of view of the Good Samaritan and speculates on his motivation. In his ear his wife is saying to be careful and not to do anything rash.”
Despite this, the Samaritan helps a robbed and beaten man who is lying by the side of the road, after two Jews – who despised the Samaritans – avoided the victim. Page said although the poem retold the story in a more modern style it adhered to the essentials of Jesus’s parable.
Crispin is a poet and visual artist of Bpangerang descent and the author of two published collections of poems, The Myrrh-Bearers (Puncher & Wattmann, 2015), and The Lumen Seed (Daylight Books, 2017).
The Blake Poetry Prize challenges contemporary poets to explore the spiritual and religious in a new work of 100 lines or less. It is run by Western Sydney literacy organisation WestWords and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.
The judges for 2020 were playwright and poet Julie Janson, Charles Sturt University lecturer Lachlan Brown and 2017 Blake Poetry Prize winner Julie Watts. This year, the Prize attracted more than 480 entries from across Australia and internationally.
The judges said, “Charlotte, a prose poem about identity stood out with its form, imagery, importance and its truth. It is a poem about a meeting across boundaries of space and time, weighted with the erasure of identity and song lines, of a legacy of broken families, racism and discovery.”