Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

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David Campbell
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Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by David Campbell » Wed Feb 15, 2017 4:06 pm

Hi All

I'm putting this here rather than under "Events" for a reason. It's about publicising a major current written poetry competition (first prize $2500!), but there's an interesting story that goes with it that others may wish to comment on.

Brenda was contacted by Meghann McGee on behalf of this competition and asked if it could be publicised on the ABPA website. Brenda replied that we usually only advertise bush poetry competitions, but that she'd pass the info on to those (like me) who write free verse as well. I then took the opportunity to write to Meghann and point out the significance of the perfectly reasonable assumption that the competition was not relevant to bush poets. I asked: "When was the last time a poem using metre and rhyme won the Bruce Dawe Prize?"

A reply came back from Associate Professor Laurie Johnson from USQ, who is the Chair of the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, and that reply is reproduced here (with Laurie's permission).

Dear Brenda and David,

I hope this finds you both well. Meghann has forwarded on to me your recent correspondence related to the Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize. Please let me take this opportunity to assure you that the competition in no way seeks to discourage bush poets or any poet who writes within a standard poetic form. While it is true that the last few years have been won by writers in free verse, there has in the past decade been a winner who used more conventional metre and rhyme (2006: Minotaura by Kate Middleton), and there are others who use internal rhymes and other formal modes that the judges consider hallmarks of what we call “poetic sensibility” when we assess each year’s applicants. In the years I have been judging in the prize, since 2003, we have also awarded commendations and places (depending on the prize structure in some years) to sonnets, villanelles, and, yes, bush poetry.

The judges certainly acknowledge the rich contribution of bush poetry and other conventional literary forms to Australia’s literary heritage. Within the curriculum that we teach, we make every effort to keep the love of poetry alive in all its forms, but especially by teaching skills in metrics and rhyme (I myself will be teaching this to first year English Lit students in a few weeks’ time). We would hope that the community of writers in this country, and the associations that continue to support these writers, will also continue to support the prize that we offer in honour of one of Australia’s foremost literary figures.

It is, unfortunately, true that we have received fewer entries in the last few years from poets that write in traditional modes. I sincerely hope the drop off in entries in these modes is not due to a public perception that the judges do not welcome such entries. Thank you, though, for bringing this perception to our attention—I will work with the team to ensure that we promote the openness of the Prize to all forms, and I hope I can convince you to give us another try in future. Please feel welcome to write to me directly if you have more feedback or thoughts on how we can improve in this area.

Kind regards,

Laurie

=========================================================

Associate Professor Laurie Johnson
President of ANZSA (Australian and New Zealand Shakespeare Association)
Chair, Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

School of Arts and Communication
Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts
University of Southern Queensland
Toowoomba QLD 4350 Australia


So, in line with that, anyone interested can find all the necessary information on the competition website at: https://www.usq.edu.au/bela/school-of-a ... etry-prize

I have sent a long reply to Laurie, outlining many of the issues that have been discussed at length on this site (so I won't reproduce the details here), particularly emphasising the gulf between the genres and the contempt often shown for bush poetry in the broader poetry community. Which discourages us from entering rhyming verse in competitions like his. (I also pointed out that many bush poets view free verse as "alphabet soup"!) Here's one quote from my reply:

"Poetry in general is out of favour these days because so much of it doesn’t communicate effectively. Not in the way that the likes of Paterson, Lawson and Dennis did a century ago. Too much contemporary verse caters mainly for a very limited, essentially free verse, audience. This is by no means a new issue. It’s a discussion that’s been around for decades, but it needs continual repetition, and it bothers me that the big competitions still tend to reinforce exclusivity over and over again because they don’t support or encourage anything else."

It's good news that this competition welcomes all forms, but I urged Laurie to make this clearer in the competition guidelines.

Cheers
David

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Brenda Joy
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by Brenda Joy » Wed Feb 15, 2017 5:31 pm

On behalf of the ABPA poets, thank you for this David. If anyone can help with this issue it is you. We are lucky to have you championing our cause with this competition and with others of a similar nature.
Brenda
Sing HU to open your heart.

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Thu Feb 16, 2017 3:38 pm

David, have you had a look at "Minotaura"? Would it pass muster as bush poetry?

I only ask because, in my experience, the rhyming poetry that is referenced by the free verse community is often (usually?) pretty dreadful.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by Shelley » Thu Feb 16, 2017 4:50 pm

Hi David and All ...

This is a truly interesting post - from so many points of view. David, thank you for taking up the task of interacting with the Chairman of the Bruce Dawe Prize on our behalf. I am sure that your articulate insights will enhance his perceptions of our genre (whatever they are!)

Like Stephen, I worry about a free-verse devotee's judgment of what is good in rhyming verse. Not having read the winning poem mentioned (and unable to find it online), I can't comment about it specifically. But often we see a very liberal interpretation of rhyming verse from those who run "open" competitions.

I had the chance to be interviewed on ABC Local Radio last week - about the year that was, and bush poetry in general. I used the opportunity to talk about how as Treasurer of ABPA during 2016, I had the opportunity to observe first-hand what a challenge it is for bush poetry event organisers to find the funds to keep their events going, the related challenge of keeping up the supply of accredited judges who have the specialised knowledge required to judge bush poetry (both performance and written), and the difficulty of attracting younger people to this uniquely Australian art form.

The interviewer asked me whether there are regional differences throughout Australia - e.g. do people in Mt Isa like different poetry from people in Melbourne? I replied that from my observation the differences are driven more by perception than geographics. There definitely is a prevailing opinion that bush poetry is "less intellectual" than other art forms - that it belongs solely around the campfire or in the pub, where everyone can listen for free and have a good belly laugh. While there's nothing wrong with that - there are many people who don't realise that bush poetry is so much more! I told him that many performing bush poets are regularly approached by audience members who "had no idea" how much variety there is in bush poetry. While that "narrow view" perception prevails, attracting sponsorship and other forms of active community involvement remains a challenge.

I would venture to suggest that some organisers of "open" poetry competitions would share this view. It's good to see that the Bruce Dawe committee doesn't fall into that category - according to their words, anyway.

I'd love the chance to attend Professor Johnson's lecture classes on metrics and rhyme - it would be fascinating to see how they compare with our criteria!

Like many of us, I hesitate to enter bush poetry in an open competition because the prizes so often go to free verse. I have no issue with free verse - I write free verse occasionally too. It's just that side-by-side in these competitions, free verse usually wins (with the occasional exception).

However, after reading your post, David - I must say I am tempted to enter one of my bush poems - as a wild card, if nothing else. I note that there is a 50 line limit.

Keep us posted if you hear anything else of interest.

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by dkitchen » Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:34 am

A post by Gary Harding has been removed from this thread because some of his comments were deemed extremely discourteous to Associate Professor Laurie Johnson and counterproductive to the positive spirit in which his letter was written. The ABPA wishes to foster co-operation with competitions which welcome bush poetry, and is encouraged by the message that a prestigious event such as the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize supports our verse. A post by Neville Briggs which objected to Mr Harding's comments and pointed out their unhelpful, damaging nature has also been deleted as it quoted some of those comments. Members are again reminded that in registering for this site they agree "...not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening, sexually-orientated or any other material that may violate any laws be it of your country, the country where 'ABPA - Australian Bush Poets Association' is hosted or International Law".

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David Campbell
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by David Campbell » Tue Feb 21, 2017 7:24 pm

Thanks, David K. The ABPA simply can't afford the risk of any legal action as the result of potentially slanderous comments, so removing such posts is a wise precaution. I would have thought that the warning messages on the site about this issue had been clear enough, but apparently not.

It's something of an uphill battle, Brenda, but it's a case of "nothing ventured, nothing gained". So even if we only get one or two of our traditional poems entered in the Bruce Dawe competition at least the flag is being flown! In my letter to Professor Johnson I included a poem as an example and he said that if he had been judging "it would most definitely have made the shortlist", so that's encouraging. Anyway, we'll see.

I suspect you're right about "Minotaura", Stephen...it probably wouldn't be accepted by us as bush verse, but I haven't been able to track down a copy. The title definitely rings a bell, but maybe only because I read it at the time.

Shelley, you're also probably right about the "liberal" interpretation of rhyming verse in open competitions. I've read quite a few poems in those competitions that have only a nodding acquaintance with strict metre and rhyme as we know it, but are presumably considered traditional in nature. That being said, there are poems winning written bush poetry competitions that seem to me to represent a pretty liberal interpretation of what the judging sheet calls "clear mastery of metre", so maybe bush poetry is moving in that direction? If it is, then I'd be rather worried! And please enter one of your poems. The vast majority of the entries will undoubtedly be free verse, but unless we at least give it a go the situation is not going to change. And, for better or worse, ours will certainly stand out!

Cheers
David

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Stephen Whiteside
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri Mar 03, 2017 8:34 pm

The rules of entry state that published poems are ineligible.

I wrote to the organisers and was assured that a poem that has been published on the ABPA forum remains eligible.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer
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David Campbell
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by David Campbell » Thu Mar 09, 2017 10:32 am

Thanks, Stephen, that's useful information. It's just another example of the uncertainty surrounding a bald statement that "published" poetry is ineligible. As we've discussed previously, it needs to be something like "not published for individual profit" to make the rule clear.

Related to the overall topic of the acceptance of bush verse, I'm reading a recently published book called "Contemporary Australian Poetry" (Puncher and Wattman). It's an anthology which purports to cover Australian poetry from 1990 to 2016. There are well over 200 poets represented...but not a single bush poet. Bush poetry is not even mentioned in the introduction. It's as if we don't exist. One of the criteria for selection was that poets needed to have published at least one book, so, quite clearly, none of the four editors read any of the bush poetry books that have been published in that period. Or, if they did, they decided that the poetry wasn't worth including. I suspect it's the former. I wonder if any of them bothered to contact the ABPA?

Needless to say, the poetry is overwhelmingly free verse. I'm only part-way through the book, but those few poems (some of Stephen Edgar's, for example) that use a form of metre and rhyme would probably be looked at askance on this site. It's very disappointing to see a major anthology (over 600 pages) that doesn't even acknowledge the existence of a whole genre of poetry.

David

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Brenda Joy
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by Brenda Joy » Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:27 pm

Sad indeed David and why we need a brilliant champion/spokesman of our cause -- not pressuring :lol: There has been no contact made with the ABPA during my span of direct involvement with the Committee i.e. 2013 to the present.
Brenda
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Re: Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize

Post by Shelley » Fri Mar 10, 2017 9:52 pm

That's very revealing, David - and very concerning.

It seems to bear out a prevailing opinion that bush poetry belongs in the pub rather than on the printed page. Or perhaps ...
that published bush poetry did not survive the demise of Banjo and Henry and their contemporaries - and as you say, that there is a woeful level of ignorance about what is around today.

We have some of the finest poetry writers in the country devoting themselves to our genre - but how well-known are they outside the boundaries of ABPA and its devotees (and possibly some country music circles)? Even if they are known in their own regions, do people recognise their work for what it is?

The interpretation of BUSH in the purely rural sense of the word seems to persist. More than once I've had people say to me, "Oh, but your poem isn't BUSH poetry because it's not about the bush."

I took a look at the Puncher and Wattman website for "Contemporary Australian Poetry" and found some interesting comments in the blog https://puncherandwattmann.com/blog/. For example, Martin Langford says: "it is difficult to read contemporary Australian poetry (or the poetry of other Western-sourced traditions) without feeling that free verse has become the predominant mode of poetic expression." So it would seem that the editorial focus of this anthology was very much toward free verse.

Our challenge remains!

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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