Emma Neale wins the 2011 Kathleen Grattan Award

Congratulations to Dunedin’s Emma Neale, who has won this year’s Kathleen Grattan Award with her collection “The Truth Graden”. (Love the name!)  She is disgustingly talented, with three poetry collections (Sleeve-Notes, How to Make a Million and Spark) and a couple of well-regarded novels already behind her.  Well done Emma! I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of “The Truth Garden” in July.


Our best poets have a special relationship with, and respect for, language. Their work has energy, relevance, unobtrusive technique and a voice of its own which has lyrical qualities, perceptiveness, imagination and integrity. These poets work at a high level with a complex gift which they can never fully control or understand.

A collection can be a meta-poem. It has some sort of shape, organic or wrought. Its poems may cluster around a theme, or each other. A voice, both oral and literary, carries the language. The poetry holds its original spark, not extinguished by craft.

My dowsing rod divines five manuscripts. Publisher-ready, they are possibly as good as they can be, interesting examples of poetry’s manifold ways and means.

Each fulfils its charter to a high degree, each has character, wit and will, speaks as best it knows how and rejoices in language. I am taken into this and that collection’s parallel universe and given the world through that poet’s eyes, for the length of a deep reading and beyond. How different they are.

What is poetry? If you could define it exactly it’d cease to be, for uncertainty operates at its core. Its language is under tension. It appeals to memory and to the ear. It has asked to be written and lends itself to being read. It has shape and what Vincent O’Sullivan calls ‘charge’.

The poetic line is at its heart, the language heightened by image, metaphor and sound. The lyrical qualities feel unforced. The reader is aware of intelligence at work. Self-taught or workshopped? It did seem to me that a couple of collections had been overworked. Pretty well flawless, they had a slightly enervated tone.

There’s courage and self-awareness, as well as literary awareness, in Nick Ascroft’s verbal agility and insights, in Marty Smith’s musically intelligent ear and sense of fun, in Brent Kininmont’s sculpted, beautiful resonances.

Vital tension derives from the breath that carries the long lines of Albert Wendt’s poetry. The Pacific oral tradition informs his unhurriedly evolving sequence. Calm, attentive to detail, his musings on the events and continuities of life are courageous, too. At the centre of this collection is the tender relationship of a couple in older age.

The breath held or expelled in wonder, frustration or delight energises Emma Neale’s writing. Poems in ‘The Truth Garden’ take risks because they need to; in the clamour of family life they have required attention, collected thought and a spirited attitude. How else ‘to stockpile time, how hoard its shine’ except in poems drawn from relationships, home and garden and cast in words that ‘spill like incandescence around your hands’. There’s economy of language where a silence opens ‘gently as a seedling thumbs its green key through the earth’s soft lock.’

I congratulate Emma Neale on winning the Kathleen Grattan Award.

Sleeve-Notes How to Make a Million Spark

Join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: