My thoughts on the Sarah Broom Poetry Award

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At the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday, Sam Hunt announced the winner of the inaugural Sarah Broom Poetry Award.

Michael Gleissner spoke about the genesis of this award in his introductory remarks. He wanted to create something in honour of his wife, poet Sarah Broom (1972-2013) that would benefit the poetry community. This award is his invention with the help of various friends of Sarah’s from around the world. He worked hard to get funding and to put the award in place.

On the entry form, Michael made the aim of the award clear: That the award was to honour a NZ poet whether established or emerging and to provide a financial contribution towards writing a poetry manuscript. This then is an award open to any NZ poet regardless of age, style, experience or location.

I was delighted and moved as a friend and admirer of Sarah and her work to be part of the award panel. More than anything I wanted to help get this award off the ground in any way I could. My background role was to make suggestions for Sam Hunt, and to do any jobs that cropped up (such as filming Karl). It was an absolute pleasure to read all the submissions and as I have already said on this blog it prompted me to start a new feature, Poem Friday. I want to put you in touch with some of the astonishing poetry I have come across and will come across. NZ poetry is thriving.

On this occasion, Sam Hunt was Head Judge (or Chief Judge as he wittily said on Sunday) and it fell to him to pick the winner and indeed have the final decision on the shortlist–no easy task.

What blew me away about the Sunday session was hearing three very fine poets read. I am already a long-time fan of the poetry of Emma Neale but to hear the musicality of those poems  lift and soar through the air again made my skin prickle. I had not heard Kirsti before (bar a YouTube clip) but I now have her voice in my head with all its gorgeous intonations and I cannot wait to see her get a book out. I had filmed Karl but found myself catching my breath as he began to read. At his home I had been wondering if his cat was going to leap onto the couch (just as he read the word ‘cat’) but she settled back on the floor (or he!).

In my School Session on the Wednesday, I talked about two NZ writers who have shaped me as a poet. Yes, we were doing ‘sound’ and I was exploring the way poetry hits and hooks the ear– so to talk abut the aural delights of Margaret Mahy and Bill Manhire was so perfectly apt. But these two writers have also gifted us with a generosity that is humbling– a way of inhabiting the world with empathy, attentiveness to those around, an ability to listen to others, to support and promote, to be good and to be kind, to be gracious, to celebrate the power and versatility of words. It seemed to me I saw this in Emma and Kirsti. They embraced the ethos of the award to honour, celebrate and promote poetry. I was in awe of their graciousness and aplomb. And I found Karl’s speech very moving, particularly when he said he hoped the award would keep the name and poetry of Sarah alive to us all (off the cuff, a second after I told him he had won!).

Awards are tricky things– they bring out the best and the worst in people (thus the barrage of aggressive texts, emails and face-to-face comments I have endured over the past weeks and yesterday).

I want to thank everyone who has, in the spirit of the Award, remembered Sarah (and her poems!), who has opened up to the glorious poetry of the three finalists, and who has witnessed the way poetry can touch us. I did feel a little sad at the end of the session, I was holding onto my memory of Sarah, as I was hugging my publisher. I cannot thank Michael enough for the extraordinary amount of work he has had to do in what must have been a demanding and difficult year for him and his three young children. And to the real treat of getting to know Dr Sarah Ross, the other panelist judge, from Victoria University. The poetry community has benefited from this– not just the winning poet and not just the three finalists.

Thank you.

from my IPhone on the day (just learning!):











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