From a record field of 522 submissions, the University of Sydney’s Discipline of English announced the shortlist of seven entries for the 2023 David Harold Tribe Poetry Award. Currently the richest poetry prize in Australia, the award offers $20,000 for an original unpublished poem on any theme, up to 100 lines in length.
The David Harold Tribe Poetry Award has been made possible by a generous gift to the University by David Harold Tribe, author, and humanist. Awarded every five years, the prize aims to encourage the writing and enjoyment of poetry in Australia.
“The shortlist contains some incredible poems and represents a snapshot of the varied and urgent poetry currently being written in Australia,” says Dr Toby Fitch, Lecturer in the Master of Creative Writing program and 2023 judge for the David Harold Tribe Poetry Award.
The prize winner will be announced in September at an award ceremony at the University of Sydney. Overland magazine will publish the winning entry.
The judges Toby Fitch, Ellen van Neerven and John Kinsella selected a shortlist of the following entries:
'Collections: a catalogue' by Anne Elvey
The six sections of ‘Collections: a catalogue’ explore “the library of unread books” as a trope of colonial power, implying the erasure of Indigenous languages/knowledges by invasive Western culture. Occupying a respectful allyship and questioning settler mindsets, the poem’s fragmented lineation builds, unfurls, and increases in intensity and impact upon rereading.
'By a drowned valley estuary: three tracings' by Jake Goetz
Across three shimmering, fluid sections, ‘By a drowned valley estuary: three tracings’ tracks histories of theft and extraction along water routes. The pulsating rhythms delve into the complex entanglements of how such militarised colonial culture evolves and “destabilises one’s senses”.
'Open corpuscles of soil' by Daniel Holmes
In the hypnotic anaphora and listing of 'Open corpuscles of soil' mythical and modern symbols compete in a fiery Surrealist tract (unusual in Australian poetry) depicting violent capitalist wastelands. Its Césaire-inspired syntax and imagery and ironic imperative compel us to reconsider our role in the grim reality that we can even construct such lists.
'Water under the bridge' by Jeanine Leane
‘Water under the bridge’ is a taut, layered and lyrical poem about legacy and inheritance. Its tracing of the intergenerational narratives and traumas of Indigenous women and a particular kind of racial discrimination—not appearing Black enough—is rendered poignant and aching by the total control over line and word.
'[e]state[ment]' by Tim Loveday
In the sharply satirical ‘[e]state[ment]’, the deft use of brackets atomise words (“about the bathrooms divide[nds]”) so as to repurpose financial language and the advertising-speak of real estate. The poem disorientates the familiar and shows the horror behind the sell sell sell of what should be a safe space, the home, and what is the darker subtext of a home—homelessness.
'Poetry' by Gareth Morgan
This tight conversational lyric, with its wry and resigned tone, offers ‘Poetry’ as a way of being, of labouring under a “sick economy”, and shows how a poem can do and take in anything, and “if you choose it: everything”, while still subverting capital’s all-consuming nature.
'Passing Time' by Dominic Symes
‘Passing Time’ is an assemblage of contemporary life and writing poetry under lockdown, climate change and “corporate Australia”. The positives it disclaims are through irony the positives it claims—the persona takes on the role of absorbing the fetishisation of “Australian poetry” and in doing so undoes the package deal of tropes, and all of this in playful longer lines that maintain its deadly tone (“but what did you expect?”).