Wellington poet Diana Bridge was announced as the winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday 17 May.
Bridge has published five collections of poems, the latest of which, Aloe & other poems, came out in 2009. She was awarded the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award in 2010, for her distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry, and her essay, “An attachment to China” won the 2014 Landfall essay competition.
The award-winning Irish poet Vona Groarke was guest judge for the prize in 2015. She describes Bridge’s poems as “colourful and playful, but also careful, thoughtful and wise.” “There is a kind of fierce beauty to this work, alongside its rigorous intellect and formal grace.” Bridge accepted the $12,000 award at the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize event.
“I am overwhelmed and proud to be the recipient of an award set up to honour the work of Sarah Broom”, she says.
“I like to think that a tiny particle of her courage served to stiffen my spine the day I chose the poems I sent off. For I picked poems not in the hope that they might just work in a New Zealand context, or in what I imagined might be the context of the competition. I chose the poems that mattered most to me.”
“So – in went the story of Arjuna, from the Hindu text, the Baghavad Gita; in went a poem that was a response to the whole – prolific – output of the formidable professor of poetry at Oxford, Geoffrey Hill; in went a poem called ‘The Henrys’ that tackles all those terrible medieval and Tudor executions we have been subjected to in print and on the screen in recent years.”
“I am excited that we are ready for poems that spring from anywhere on the globe.”
The prize, now in its second year, was established to celebrate the life and work of Sarah Broom (1972-2013), author of Tigers at Awhitu and Gleam.
Vienna-based Alice Miller and Wellington’s Ashleigh Young were also shortlisted.
Bridge, who has a Ph.D. in Chinese poetry, has worked on the China-based poems of Robin Hyde and published an essay, “O to be a dragon”, and a Translation Paper, “An Unexpected Legacy: Xie Tiao’s poems on things”. She is at present working on the translation of a selection of classical Chinese poems.
Vona Groarke writes: “Whether it is the violence of medieval history, the engagement with nature, or a re-imagining of Ovid that is the subject, Diana Bridge’s poetry has authority and elegance. Technically sophisticated, this work is complex but never obscure; lyrically charged but never sentimental. It is unflinching in its observational commitment, but also enjoys its ability to fashion unusual and arresting imagery. There is a kind of fierce beauty to this work, alongside its rigorous intellect and formal grace. In a description that rings true of much of her work, her poem ‘Prospero’s Stones’ notes, ‘driven phrases that lap /around each other’: this is a poetry that is linguistically alert, but that also remembers to ply sound and meaning into the kind of poetic weave that is colourful and playful, but also careful, thoughtful and wise.”