tumble like Simone Biles

I’ve tried typing this opening paragraph about forty times now, and keep having to delete it as too twee, or too glib, or too loopy, or too incoherent … so here it is, very simply:

tumble has made the shortlist of the 2022 Mary & Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockhams.

(Sorry – you can probably hear the whooping and hysterical gasping from here. I’ll try to keep it quieter.)

When Sue Wootton, my wonderful publisher, phoned me to give me the news, I genuinely thought she might have made a mistake. A very weirdly out-of-body experience, hearing myself say “You’re certain? It’s definitely me?” – I know, sounds cheesy, doesn’t it? But I really did not expect to be here. Getting on the longlist was a wonderful surprise and a complete joy, and I know how much of a lottery awards are. I thought that would be it – a very satisfying it, but it.

But here we are. Less than a year from when Sue said yes (we must have set some kind of speed record for the process!) and I’m lining up beside three other superb women – Serie Barford, Anne Kennedy and Tayi Tibble – for the best poetry collection published in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2021.

How did this happen?!

Each poem in Tumble is a glimpse into a different world, and no two poems inhabit the same reality. Drawing from lines of art, history, contemporary journalism and fellow poets, the collection confidently shifts perspectives and registers, points of view and tone, while being held together by Joanna Preston’s light touch. Her pristine imagery and fine ear for rhythm and beat means every poem — and the book itself — is a celebration of poetry.

– Ockham judges’ comments

It happened because a lot of brilliant and talented people helped me. So thank you to James Norcliffe and David Howard, who helped shape the bundle of poems into a coherent and muscular whole. To Lynn Austin, Helen Yong, Karen Zelas, Bella Boyd, Gail Ingram, Jeni Curtis, Janet Wainscott and Shirley Eng for helping me polish the individual poems in our crit sessions. To Crispin Korshen for our wonderful, fearless, joyous cover. To Lynley Edmeades, my editor, and to Fiona and Laura and Imogen and Meg and everyone at OUP, especially Sue Wootton, tumble‘s biggest cheerleader, who got what I was trying to do right from the start. I know how lucky I am to have had all of you with me. Thank you.

Twelve years after her award-winning debut, Joanna Preston returns with Tumble, a wide-ranging collection that traces the paths we take in life, and reflects on the experiences and wisdom we gain from our travels. Preston’s meticulous craft is evident in many memorable poems, some devastating, others filled with an infectious joy.

Each of these remarkable books has its own strength that could land it the big prize, but based on gut feeling (which is how I bluff my way to winning Oscar prediction contests every year) I think it’s Tumble for the win.

– Chris Tse, The Spinoff: Surprises Ahoy: presenting the 2022 Ockham finalists

And thank you to you, reading this. To everyone who reads poetry, whether it’s tumble or not. I write poetry because it’s how I make sense of the world – when it works, the poems know far more than I do. Knowing that they speak to other people, that they move and delight and shock and frighten and comfort and entertain – that’s the reason I send them out into the world. How astonishing, how humbling and gratifying and fledgling-bird-after-their-first-successful-flight-oh-my-god-I-can-do-that?!-ful it is to be here!

Auckland, I’ll see you on May 11th.

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