Once again, the annual Dorothea Mackellar poetry awards have uncovered young Australian poets with their heads full of dreams and a joyful talent for words and rhythm.

This year’s theme Searching for Stars attracted more than 6700 online entries. Helen Green, project officer for the competition said that though the total number of entries was lower than previous years, when entries were submitted by post, the online entry system had worked well, with poems received from primary and secondary schools across the country.

Secondary school
Commenting on the secondary school entries, judge Sue Gough said: “When students are given a suggested topic, it results in an avalanche of poems that are very predictable. 

“However it is also in response to the topic that the real stars come out: the poets who think a little more deeply and originally, who in addressing the topic of Searching for Stars avoid clichés about diamonds and words such as ‘twinkling’.

“Our most talented poets this year took a lateral approach and explored far afield to write about celebrities, starfish, black holes and the space-time continuum. It is interesting to note that many of our winners did not need the prompting of an imposed topic and followed their own inspiration. 

As a judge, I am looking for those entries that show evidence the writer has understood the emotional and intellectual potential of poetry. The power of good poetry is very different from that of prose. Poetry crystallises, rather than describes, a moment, a feeling, a vision or a concept. Its rhythms forge a link between the words, the emotions and memory.  

“When it came to the senior school participation, I have to wonder what is in the water in Tasmania?  Many of the best entries were from a number of different schools in the Apple Isle and demonstrated that there are inspiring teachers in that State. 

“Perhaps the most outstanding entries of all in terms of their number, quality and range were from the class of Patsy Graham of St Michael’s Collegiate School in Hobart. I would also like to congratulate Katriona Bailey from Redeemer Baptist School at North Parramatta and Athanasia Keferis of Canley Vale High for the high standard of their students’ entries in the senior section.”

Sue Gough chose Sophie Clarke’s poem as the Senior Secondary Winner

The Fisherman’s Wife
(excerpt)
I have known a fisherman,
And I have been the hands,
That held the enemy down,
Firm and steady,
Against the planks,
So its eye,
Solitary and bone white,
Arrogant and pleading,
Gave only the slightest,
Quivering blink,
At the moment of the first incision,
(and I’d swear the thing,
The fish,
Looked right at me?)

“Like all good poems, its complexity deserves several readings, each one revealing new layers of meaning.  Dealing with the ties of matrimony, the conflict between the wife’s distaste for her husband’s occupation and her assistance in his work, it is a disturbing examination of a woman’s dilemma.”

Primary school
Primary Judge Robert Kimber commented: “The best work in the Primary category stands out because it gives a convincing sense of the writer’s voice. There is spontaneity and energy in the expression, with a flow that suggests the subject is close to the writer’s heart.  

“Poetry has to be personal to be alive, ‘words with heartbeats’, one great poet once remarked. As I read a poem and, frequently I stress, as I read a poem aloud, I hear the voice of the writer. The fall of the words, the very choice of the words, the phrasing, the use of speech rhythms and the sound patterns chosen to elaborate on the ideas, give me a sense of what the writer is thinking and feeling. That very selection and the way the parts come together in a good poem, give a rich sense of the poet as an individual.

“Among the winners we have samples of what is best in Australian young poets… and that is very good indeed.”

He found his Lower Primary winner in Charlie Kairaitis’ poem.

My Night Time Friends 
(excerpt)
When I go to bed at night
So I don’t feel scared
I have my favourite animals
Wrapped up in my bed
Mini-Ted, Sheep and Panda
Came from the local fete
Panda and I play DS
The panda game is great
My Unicorn has a squeezable belly
A purple horse with a sparkly horn
A soft loving baby from my Aunty
Annabel is my Baby Born
“Here is a convincing account of the writer’s bedtime friends, each given a cryptic description with the whole drawn together in a rational conclusion. The writer uses simple images clearly expressed in simple words and she shows an ear for sound: “A purple horse with a sparkly horn” and “Zoot the Zumble has purple wings”... While the end rhymes seem to fall into place easily, in the main, it is the internal rhyming which is the most effective and contributes well to the meaning and cheery spirit of the poem. Well done!”

The winning poets traveled to Gunnedah NSW to receive their prizes at the awards ceremony on 3rd September.

Award winners from Katherine School of the Air were unable to attend, however, their teacher sent a DVD of Drago Kalinic (Marralawa) and Jayden Wilson (Nelson Springs – My Home) reciting their poems, to a background video of the remote areas they live in.

The video also looked at some of the stunning scenery around the territory and gave a snapshot of the annual school gathering.

Their teacher said: “Our children have gained immensely from the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition, with improvement in their poetry writing, diction and public speaking skills.”

The winning poems are online at www.dorothea.com.au >winners >2009