Newcastle Poetry Prize

Published : Tuesday, December 04, 2007

This year’s Newcastle Poetry Prize, Australia’s most generous and prestigious, was awarded on Friday night (30 November) to my poem “Eclogues”. When the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle (sponsors with Newcastle City Council of the prize, which is administered beautifully by the Hunter Writers’ Centre) called my name, I was juggling my restless daughter Lucy near the back of the Newcastle Regional Gallery and trying to stop my son Henry from poking the Brett Whiteley. I got to the podium and thanked most of the right people and said some words about coming late to poetry, and later I read my poem from start to finish, and my feet have still not touched the ground.

Here’s what the judges (Martin Harrison, John Jenkins and Jan Owen) had to say about my poem.

“Mark Tredinnick’s ‘Eclogues,’ the winning poem in this year’s Newcastle Poetry Prize, works elegantly and intimately over a huge terrain. It seems, at first, to be a poem about the domestic space of someone who writes, about the writing life and family, about the immediacy and beauty of plants and climate: gathering these themes, the poem moves, turns, delays and decoys. It weaves a strong sense of family and children growing up, the pleasures and pains of parenting, into a sustained attentiveness to lanscape and place. ‘One’s own life is an absurd miracle,’ Tredinnick writes, ‘waning as long as it lasts.’ If there is an undertow in this phrase, pulling the reader into a melancholy closeness to things, then this tone ultimatley prepares us for what ultimately motivates this enormously skilful poem. For the writer is aware that contemplating natural environments is to contemplate something ‘longer’ than human life, including the lives of the two friends (the first friend, the recently deceased environmental geographer George Seddon, the other friend an unnamed American poet fighting cancer). The weight and the impact of these tragedies, held in a marvellous act of sympathy and tact, are what energise this poem towards its sustained and moving conclusion, steering the work into being a buoyant and immaculately orchestrated poem, explored as a movement of utterance as well as a movement of thought.”

I think my poem is about dying and how to survive it; it’s a meditation on the consolations of landscape (this is what an eclogue has always been) and the uses of poetry; it’s an elegy for the suffering of the earth; and it’s a pastoral exploration of the miraculous and tenuous threads that keep us alive for a time and keep this wide world spinning. It’s also about spiders. And a cowshed.

My poem and the poems of the highly commended and shortlisted poems appear in the anthology of this year’s prize, also titled Eclogues. You should find it in good bookshops with good poetry sections; if you can’t find one, contact the Hunter Writers’ Centre: http://www.hwcentre.com