In a conversation in 2014, a Sydney poet told me, ‘I am most impressed with the even sensibilities, well-ordered attitudes and presentation of the journal’. He observed that ‘every literary magazine at one time or another has made itself known to readers and public alike with a poetry prize or competition in its name’. He thought the Australian Poetry Journal should follow suit, but in a different manner: the editor or judge should select a prize-winning poem from a field of poems already published in the journal in the previous year. ‘A great poem,’ he said, ‘should be honoured when it appears’. The prize could be about $250, which would make it one of the smaller literary prizes going around, but one of the more generous and innovative in that the following issue of the journal would feature the poem itself and some comment from the writer and judge. The judges would change each year. I agreed that it would be a fine thing to draw attention to what we considered ‘a great poem’ chosen from each year’s issues. My friend remarked ‘Such a prize would be more open, in that it would allow the poets and punters to read form before the starter and stewards let the horses go’. Finally, he offered a cheque to institute the award, on condition of his remaining anonymous.
Wollongong poet Ali Jane Smith’s ‘Another Literary Life’ headed a shortlist of eight poems the sponsor considered from issue 4.1 and issue 4.2. In the nature of the award, which is not a public competition, we won’t offer comment on any but the chosen poem. What impressed concerning ‘Another Literary Life’ is the assured handling of the variations on what makes a ‘writer’s life’. It has as model a structure employed by Laurie Duggan, and in that sense, its literariness is intensified. Smith’s self-awareness, tempered with alertness to the absurdity of her domestic and artistic roles, has some kinship with Duggan’s sense of the conflicting responsibilities involved in being true to all one’s relationships.
Ali Jane Smith has published poems, short stories, reviews and criticism in newspapers, literary magazines and anthologies. She has been an active supporter of poetry in association with the South Coast Writers Centre, of which she was formerly Director. Five Islands Press published Gala, a small collection of her poems, in 2006. Ali Jane Smith says this about her poem ‘Another Literary Life’:
I was sitting on the bus reading a secondhand copy of UQP’s Laurie Duggan: Selected Poems 1971-1993. I came to Duggan’s poem ‘A literary life’. Duggan is good at describing what it’s like to trying to get your bearings in an awkwardly transplanted Antipodean version of European culture. I wanted to describe my own strange literary life, fragmented, distracted, banal, but endlessly interesting, at least to me. On the strength of this lovely prize, I have just ordered a copy of Duggan’s new book, Allotments.
We’ll invite readers to nominate their selection of the best poem of 2015, on Australian Poetry’s website early in 2016. The ‘readers’ choice’ nominations can include comments. The readers’ choice may not necessarily coincide with the judge’s.