28 August 2017

Meet the 2017 John Marsden Prize Shortlist – Poetry

In 2017, over 630 secondary school students from across Australia entered The John Marsden & Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers. Fifteen talented young students made it on to the shortlist in categories of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

In the lead-up to announcing the winners at the 2017 Melbourne Writers Festival, we’re introducing you to each and every young writer on our list. Meet our young poets!

Tahlia McConochie, You find me

Why do you write poetry? 
I truly love poetry. It’s like therapy and art and lessons all in one. I write both to make sense of feelings and ideas that are hard for me to deal with, and as a means of telling an alternative version of the truth. I find that just recounting an important time in mine or someone else’s life or plainly describing events and emotions isn’t enough. Poetry is a method of expression that allows me to create specific moods and atmospheres, to cultivate imaginary worlds within which stories can be told most authentically. It’s like putting a plant in a greenhouse rather than just outside in the garden. That is to say that I write poetry to express my truths in the most advantageous way possible.
I can remember the first poem I wrote with no intended purpose other than to document my own version of a truth. I was about eleven years old. This was the first time I wrote a poem not for school, not for a homemade Mother’s Day card, but to remember some thoughts and emotions in more depth than if I was to simply jot them down into a journal. I’ve loved writing poetry ever since.

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
One of my favourite novels, the kind of favourite you read twelve times a year and recite your favourite lines from in your sleep, is ‘We All Looked Up’ by Tommy Wallach. The way I feel about this book surprises even me. It makes you question the purpose of existence while also remaining down to earth and relatable.
A favourite poet of mine is Raquel. She uploads her work to Tumblr under the username inkskinned and she possesses that freakish literary superpower that makes you visualise every section of every piece of her writing. You can’t help but feel and see all of the microscopic little particulars of the stories and moods she creates.

Can you tell us a bit about You Find Me? Why did you choose to write it?
My shortlisted poem actually started out as the caption of an Instagram post. It was incredibly late at night, or maybe incredibly early morning. Spring was turning into Summer and I couldn’t sleep for fear of losing a very important friend, who I loved as much as I’ve ever loved anybody, to changes in her values and her behaviour that were happening as a result of an eating disorder. I was missing her in advance.  It turned into an untitled poem that I visited every few weeks before it somehow acquired a title, that I had nothing to do with, and was submitted. I wrote it because I loved her, I hadn’t spent time with her since that Winter, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I could make sense of what I was feeling.

Freya Cox, A Pot from Damascus

Why do you write poetry? 
I write poetry because it is a simple yet effective way of communicating feelings and ideas. The fact that it’s just a short collection of words that don’t have to abide by normal literary rules gives the writer greater freedom to use language to communicate what they want. You can take an idea and turn it into a poem and it suddenly has great power and can evoke thoughts and feelings in people in a way that other types of writing cannot.

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
I’ve recently read Burial Rights and The Good People by Hannah Kent. I love the way she takes unusual topics and little-known stories from history and creates powerful novels out of them. She has a beautiful writing style, and her use of imagery and description is captivating.

Can you tell us a bit about A Pot from Damascus?
A Pot from Damascus looks at the value that is placed upon an ancient pot from Damascus in a museum, and this is compared to the lack of value that some countries give to refugees from Syria. I used the pot as the focus for this poem as a new and different way of writing about asylum seekers.

Why did you choose to write it?
This year I was fortunate enough to attend a Model United Nations conference in Qatar, where I visited the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. It was a beautiful and elegant building, and inside there were hundreds of ancient, precious artefacts. I especially love ceramics, and there was one pot that caught my eye – it was a gorgeous aqua colour, standing by itself in a glass cabinet. I read its placard and saw that it was made in Damascus hundreds of years ago. It struck me then, the cruel irony that this pot from Damascus was so highly valued and looked after so well; it was treated much better than the people who flee Damascus today. I was also struck by the tragedy that Damascus used to be such a flourishing city that created beautiful art, while today it churns out refugees.

Emily Henby,  Tech-Tonic Wasteland

Why do you write poetry? 
I write poetry because I love it. All the different ways of expressing yourself and your thoughts. I often get random thoughts and inspirations and go from there. For me, you can’t force poetry. It flows like a river. And like a river, if you don’t catch the idea it rapidly floats away.

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
My favourite author is Melanie Dickerson. I love her fairy-tale themes mixed with Christianity. My favourite book by her is ‘The Captive Maiden.” Some of my other favourite books by different
authors are: “The Maze Runner” series, “The Passage”, “The Amateurs” and “The Pause”.

Can you tell us a bit about Tech-Tonic Wasteland? Why did you choose to write it?
I submitted “Tech-Tonic Wasteland”, which is about a dystopian city. I was reading “The Talisman” by Stephen King and Peter Straub and the description of ‘ARCADIA FUNWORLD’ gave me the inspiration to write my poem. I enjoy reading and then writing my own dystopian fiction because it’s an outlet for my inner thoughts and feelings. Especially with my depression and anxiety, writing poetry is a way of getting all that out of my system.

Stella Theocharides, Saturnalia

Why do you write poetry?
I was introduced to poetry this year in my lit class, and I started trying to write some because I loved how thoughtful it was: you had to have the right words, in the right places, with the right rhythm and punctuation and line breaks. It’s very satisfying when the words finally fall into place – which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but still – it’s a nice process to go through.

Who are your favourite writers? Or your favourite books?
I love Donna Tartt’s The Secret History; in which a group of annoyingly pretentious (but somehow still delightful?) classics students commit a few felonies and struggle to deal with the consequences. And I loved Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which to be quite honest has a similar plotline. China Miéville has got to be on this list too, a long-time favourite and the author of the most creative books I’ve read.

Can you tell us a bit about Saturnalia?
Even thinking about getting older is hard, especially when we’re being pelted with questions about future careers and universities – questions not a lot of us know the answers to. It feels like there’s a dim light on the horizon but none of us are sure whether the sun’s setting or rising. Is it uphill or downhill from here? The poem’s about trying to hide from the question “What’s next?”.

Why did you choose to write it?

It was the middle of the winter holidays, I’d just spent a week doing absolutely nothing, and I decided to keep hiding from responsibilities by writing a poem about hiding from responsibilities. Not my best choice, considering the amount of homework I had, but nevertheless a nice way of pretending to be productive.

Maz Howard, victim blaming

Why do you write poetry? 
Above all, I aim to write poetry that makes people think. I want to conquer evil with my words. I want to spin stanzas that influence opinions and change, and leave the world breathless in their wake.

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
My favourite book is Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – her work inspires to continue writing and reach for higher goals, tackle the hearts of more individuals.

Can you tell us a bit about victim blaming?
My submission, victim blaming, is a poem inspired by the stories of many who have been targeted by the sheer inequality of the world. Specifically, it tackles the issue of women taken advantage of by men, whose voices go unheard by the masses.

Why did you choose to write it?
I wish to bring to light experiences that are often ignored or glazed over, forgotten victims of society who deserve a voice. I can hardly hope to make a difference with a voice as small as my own, but like this I can begin to weave a tapestry that knits together those left in silence. I can begin to invoke change.