Launching the John O’Connor Award

Last night at the CPC we launched the John O’Connor First Book Award – a competition that will see one lucky (and brilliantly talented) Christchurch-based poet have their debut poetry collection published by Sudden Valley Press, with the backing and enthusiastic promotion of the whole Canterbury Poets’ Collective.

One of the great privileges of being on the CPC is getting to watch new poets coming through – making their first forays into public performance, making connections with other poets, and coming back with better and better poems. And it’s becoming incredibly difficult for new poets to find publishers – so few are willing (or able) to take a risk on a new voice, unless there is something about them that is especially marketable. Merely being very good is often not enough.

John O’Connor was one of my early mentors. Through Sudden Valley, he published the first collections of a number of Canterbury poets, including Helen Bascand, Frankie McMillan, Nicholas Williamson and John Allison. (Although John A’s case is a bit odd – his second book came out before his first, from a different publisher. That’s John for you.) After John O’Connor died at the vastly too early age of 66, Sudden Valley went into hiatus.

Which brings us to here and now, and most importantly, this competition. It’s been roughly five years in the organising, but we’ve finally gotten here. Our hope is that it will continue, and be able to be expanded to include the whole of Canterbury, maybe even the whole South Island. But that will depend on how this first iteration goes.

So. If you live in the Christchurch City Council district, have never published a full poetry collection, and have enough good poems to put together a solid manuscript, get to it. Go to the official page (, download the full entry conditions and the entry form, and get to work.

The worst that will happen is you spend $30 and focus on exactly what your body of work to date is like – trust me, the experience of putting a collection together is valuable in its own right. You will surprise yourself.

But the best that could happen? The publication of your first book. Say it with me: your BOOK!

If you have questions about this competition, ask them in the comments below and I’ll answer them. Well, answer them as best I can, anyway.

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