At the end of last year I was asked to sit on the panel of judges for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize. It’s prize I’d been shortlisted for in 2018 for my first collection – BONE INK so I really understand the difference it can make to a poet. At the time of my shortlisting the publisher of Bone Ink had just folded and I was in the process of trying to convince other publishers to pick up the collection…I wasn’t having much luck. The shortlisting gave me something to shout about and something I could show potential publishers, eventually Bone Ink was republished up by UWAP, but I honestly think that might not have happened without the shortlisting. And, without the republication I think Bone Ink would have disappeared. So, as you might guess, I’m a pretty big supporter of the award. It took me about five seconds to reply saying I’d love to be a judge for the 2021 award.
There were about 90 books entered in the prize, it was an amazing cross section of Australia poetry and genuinely revealed the strength of poetry in the country. There were at least ten collections that could have been on the shortlist. I’ll always be haunted by the ghost-list of at least five other books that could easily have been on the shortlist. As a judge it’s heartbreaking trying to decide between collections. I was lucky to work with two marvellous, generous readers – Lachlan Brown and Eunice Andrada; both were so thoughtful and open in their assessment of the collections. We had many fantastic Zoom conversations about the books entered in the prize.
In the end, the winner of the Kenneth Slessor Prize was Ellen Van Neerven with her collection Throat. Here’s what we had to say: Throat is a book that extends and expands the possibilities of poetic utterance in Australia. It establishes community with joy. It provides a clarion call for justice. It speaks sensitively to multiple readerships simultaneously. This is an exceptional volume, representing a key moment in the ongoing reckoning with colonial legacies and power structures.
It’s a wonderful collection, find it, read it!
The other collections on the shortlist were:
Element: The Atomic Weight & Radius of Love – JORDIE ALBISTON
Ask Me About the Future – REBECCA JESSEN
A History of What I’ll Become – JILL JONES
Change Machine – JAYA SAVIGE
They are all genuinely special books!