In 2002, Story Inc endowed a prize to be awarded each year to the best poetry folio produced in the Institute of Modern Letters poetry workshops at Victoria University. Part of the endowment for the prize comes from combining the individual royalties that would have been paid to copyright holders of the quotations used in the Wall of Words installation. They generously waived their fees in favour of a collective donation to an appropriate charity.

The winner for 2016 was Jacob Brown.

"I’m a living, breathing cliché for writing this, but I don’t know what poetry means to me." 

"To say it means anything would imply that I write poetry to express meaning, or that poetry is inherently meaningful. I don’t know if I want to give poetry that much credit. Plays and novels are so bound by scary things like character, motivation and narrative propulsion. We are experiencing stories about ‘real’ people, so their worlds need to make sense if we want them to be satisfying. I don’t read poems to engage in a world that makes sense, or even to be satisfied. I read poems to see new angles and feel sloppy, unmitigated feelings through language alone. If a poem is successful, it will make me feel multiple feelings at once and leave me a bit pleasantly confused, like when I shiver in a hot shower. I don’t know why that happens, but it’s pretty exhilarating when it does."   

 

Birthday Party

The teenage weasels that just arrived are stealing your attention.

I am waiting for their small talk to drip away
so we can leave to get more wine alone.

Here’s what will happen:

all that glitters will not be gold
but NEW WORLD red
I will taste your laughter
and suffocate it with my tongue,
a thick, boysenberry gun
shooting slow bullets into your bloodstream.
My face will flush emoji-sweater-pink
my wrist will be cocked and resting on your shoulder
just to prove how self-assured I am
you’ll rub my dick and you’ll only love men
or at least tell me repeatedly
“this is all a bit much, man.”

It doesn't happen though.

I pull clay out of my throat and try to be clear with you
but you never understand me.

It's like pissing in a violin.
We continue to make dehydrated noise.

The green circle by your name palpitates
in lethargic bursts
the next day.

 

Unemployed

I found Jesus in the fruit and vege drawer.
He was tucked behind a shrivelling apple
and covered in grime from his last resting place.

I took him into the sun and wiped him clean on the lawn.
I made a ring of daisy chains around his little legs
and sat with him for a quiet minute or two

then the wind came and threw him under a rusting bike.

At night, I went outside to check he was still there,
and sure enough he was, dripping weeds and worms.
My wee Messiah.

My phone vibrates with your name again.
Shut up.
I'm far too busy to make plans.

 

The winner for 2015 was William Connor.

I LOVE WHAT CECIL DAY LEWIS SAID ABOUT POETRY: THAT HE DOES NOT WRITE POEMS TO BE UNDERSTOOD, BUT TO UNDERSTAND.

“I never chose to be a poet, and I certainly don’t sit down to tell the world something I know about. Usually, all I am aware of is a kind of wind-still, then a welling up in my chest. When I go for a run, strange bits of syntax, descriptions, lines might rise up from somewhere. Then, if I am lucky, these fragments will collapse into a poem. To me, reading and writing poems is like a opening a window out into an unseen world behind the ordinary one, perhaps the same world our dreams are filmed in. When I open that window, I am searching for something; sometimes I am fed, I rest, or am exquisitely disturbed. I am always left wanting more.”

Gran

After they had lifted her onto the wheeled trolley
and smoothed over her face
a starched sheet like pastry
Lu, dad and I drove to Upper Hutt

we wandered together and alone up the main street
looking for something still open
spools of perished air
stretching then bunched between us

the Chinese baker’s son
fat with glasses and a plastic gun
sat and shot with spitty sounds
at formica chairs

we finished off cold quiche
waited for the eftpos machine
by custard squares under cling film

I made the afternoon train

 

2am

last night in the dead of the night
I woke and sleep lay broken on the bed
you had woken too

and though neither of us spoke
we could have spoken
about something other
that we knew

that we have felt for some days now
but not seen

we saw it last night
with eyes behind our eyes
eyes that had not been sleeping
that were sharpened by the dark

we could have reached across the bed
with the hands inside our hands

what would have then been said,
sober, quiet, immense and frightening,
might have forded this white water

might have been a glimpse of stone
a breathless leap together

or a word to shut off all sound


 

The winner for 2014 was Sam Lentle-Keenan.

“I find it hard to sum up what poetry means to me. It’s definitely something to do with reflecting on the world and exploring it through language. I love that it can be used to create new meanings, possibilities, interpretations, perhaps even realities from things that may seem resolved or complete. I am sure this is part of what draws me to poetry again and again.”

Nerium oleander

I have only occasionally pleased her. At first she admired
         the arc of my branches, my clusters of coral buds,

and she likes the word glaucous – my glaucous leaves
         the shape of spears, like windows misted in frost.

Neighbours told her how a fire of me gassed a family,
         my toxic vapours filling their sleeping lungs.

Now she imagines the cats sharpening their claws on poison,
         the dog chewing poisoned sticks, bouquets of poison,

poisoned fingerprints. There is an artfulness to her worry,
         a thoroughness I find admirable. It is the same

concentrated effort that pushes forth fists of buds
         (worry, I am sure, has its own particular gifts).

I watch as she packs leaves in plastic, soaks
         pruning saws in bleach – I have learnt to remain

indifferent to my inaccurate reputation.
         I have my froth of blossoms, she has her worry,

and we hold them against ourselves, like knives.


 

The winner for 2013 was Rebecca Hawkes

Rebecca is a Media Studies scholar who is often late for things as she is easily distracted by cats. She believes very strongly in poetry, although if you press her on the issue it will be hard to discern exactly what she believes about it, except that it happens to her with alarming frequency.

song from the fallen tree which served as a ten year old’s altar to the wild gods

i am a hundred years more Rebecca before you were a seed
i fell to mouldering in thatthis darkleaf cathedral where you come

         to bury the bones of brief chittering things and burn waxcandles
         in roothollows ah you young Rebecca life all aflickering past short roots unplanted

i am all your church and ever the altar at which you Rebecca kneel i all
goldenarched around by sunbeam and sapling-green

        i share with you rootlessness and in winter you brush away me my snow
        humming your softflame Rebecca the warmblood beatsong to soften my ache of frost

while you ask knowing of what time is to the forest and you sing up your low Rebecca voice
to the horned ones which do not walk the silent hymn of season same as we all

        then twice up here you come bringing anothergirl firstly you raise Rebecca
        you open your arms to the sky saying this is your heart and

home yes this the forest that sings you by name and Rebecca
it is true we the trees know you but you never learned from us

        the songs called growing and slowly and the next time Rebecca you bring
        your brighthaired friend you kiss her in the prickebelly shadow of the holly

where i feel you like a seed unhusked and shiversway as she branchsnap slams
whipslap runs so when again you dewyoung Rebecca come to me you come alone a seed

        ungrowing Rebecca and withering back your shoots as you bitterbrittle
        freeze your sapling blood into something thinner than lancewood leaf

which snaps you through to the heartwood solvent veinsap dizzily diluting Rebecca you
can barely make your mountainwalk up to me until for two snowmelts

        you do not return but even once your starved arterial taproot has begun
        sucking in again greedy sunlight and sugar to colour your suppling Rebecca bark

back alive you have disremembered every prayersong taught you by we the trees
and i rot in the forest you called your heart and Rebecca you do not visit


 

The winner for 2012 was Alex Mitcalfe Wilson

“I believe that poetry is a means of engaging intensively with the complexity of our world. I value the space it provides to approach fascinating, difficult and rewarding topics in novel ways. To me, poetry is thought and language working as hard as they can, together; something I find both exhilarating and exhausting!”

This poem was inspired by an exhibition of photographs by Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki  at the Adam Art Gallery in Wellington.

 

YOSHIYUKI,
after THE PARK by Kohei Yoshiyuki

Our eyes strobed with flashing red
we see branches lit like tunnels
and thus we too are watching
each touching the others, as in pictures
the man the men each holding
for a moment and each not receding

unlike the moment, they too are receding
not knowing and not ashamed by red
lights growing in camera, not holding
the light, letting it strobe the grass and tunnel
the flash bulb recording serial pictures
holding back dark in watching

but not this darkness, under fences watching
nor any in plastic sheaths receding,
caught blank in leaving picture
houses so white grained, the light that red
still embers burning outside the tunnels
inside the park, inside the man still holding

the man beside the tree still holding
but not naming, not by anything but men watching
and mouths; the mouth on him eclipsing tunnels
and all the glow dimming on him receding
this eye memory of names once read
still fading, now framing pictures

of those bananas pink, white like pictures
growing leaves, this bark for a moment holding
light and some bodies lit invisible red
by cold bulbs breaking; still watching
the men the women the branches receding
the men the two lights shining back in two tunnels

with the black and light still dark, these tunnels
not ashamed; even of themselves, we picture
no memory in these instants, grappled and receding,
now withdrawn and no more holding
the flash the experience or light of watching;
only here as light and as light knowing this red

and this receding, pulling smoked from those tunnels
the green grass red, in light of these pictures
the grains fast, holding hands in this watching

alexmitcalfewilson

 

The winner for 2011 was Ruth Upperton

Ruth studies law and English in Wellington. Her areas of interest are rhyme, statutory drafting and litigation.

The prosecution

he loosed the boat that sank the ship
he muttered swears and gave us lip

he took sweet cherries from the girls
he swallowed whole the summer pearls

he took white sailboats from the boys
he gave the dead a waking voice

he shook the baby in the cot
he left the cabbages to rot

he spat into the casserole
he left the dreamer down the hole

he smashed the glass-spun hummingbird
he wouldn’t use the magic word

he took our tongues and gave us lies
he made the graveman improvise

he slapped the spinster in the face
he broke the boy who won the race

he disembowelled the sacred cow
he said to us, start running now

he dyed the wedding dresses red
he filled the old man’s head with lead

and this is why we want him dead
and this is why we want him dead

 

Song about a child

The dog is a book read over and over.
The dog is a river, it’s stopping for no one.
The dog is a child who thinks hot is a colour.

The book is a dog that hasn’t been walked.
The book is a river that cannot be forded.
The book is a child, maintaining stern silence.

The river is a dog, running past hillsides.
The river is books spilt down a staircase.
The river is a child, it refuses to play with you.

The child is a dog sniffing at thistles.
The child is a book that hasn’t been written.
The child is a river running under a river.

The child is the dog and the dog is the river.
The book is a book about children in winter.
The dog barks a book at the edge of the river.
Dog, sings the child, sings it over and over.

 

Animate elements

You’re very sexy for a heretic,
walking in a heretic manner.
I forgot the prophylactic,
you forgot to bring your camera.
The elements watch us below.
They start the fall of hectic snow.

We trade smiles with a passing funeral,
note the sapling’s sticky anger.
Churches, benches, fields are carnal.
Cities speak and streetlights banter.
The elements crow They don’t know!
They’re filling us with baleful snow.

You and I forget to start
in avenues so cutely callous.
The clouds sensibly depart.
The sun’s becoming jealous.
It’s elementary stuff to know;
one day soon the snow will go.

We walk through the animate streets,
wishing only we were talking.
Eftpos machines hand out receipts;
windows, doorways, cars are gawping.

The wind sings a song so apropos,
the alleys collect what we outgrow,
the elements treasure the status quo.
They hold us wrapped in animate snow.


 

The winner for 2010 was Ishmael Doney

Clock Time

Sleep is tugging at the place where my hand should
be working. The pull and push of sleep time.
Thick breakfast air and thin breakfast light
take turns in my senses. I am
the late bus from table to
chair, head nodding to the
cold sound of waking
slowly.
I am
out in
loud, sun steps,
dropping sleep sleeves,
and picking up clock
time. Standing and stretching
into midday trees. Racing
concrete to sidewalk and not quite
caring. Morning sprawls out through the day,
making me crawl back into bed before evening even arrives.


 

The winner for 2009 was Hera Lindsay Bird (writing as Hera Bradburn)

 

Things which can be held.

There are hands born
to shadow walls with the bright motions of birds.

There are birds born
to unpick skies with small hooked beaks.

In the cold of the kitchen, braiding wooden stems in patient wreaths.
We trim the stems diagonally, suspend life briefly.

Your breath catches on nothing, these fine folds of flesh
curl our throats with the force of what’s spoken.

There are things that can be held in this life,
and maybe you will be the one to hold them.

 

Jaime.

His cardigan is still hanging by the door where he left it
hooked like a fish. Its neck is an open mouth
gasping.

You lay your face against the surface of the kitchen table
the polished grain, the dark veins of trees.
It too was once growing.

 

Marguerite.

Those friends of her body, those rusting cells
that strike together like Christmas bells
are ringing themselves out.

The sky can no longer focus itself.
The curtains are as dark as the trees.
The trees are as dark as the curtains.

Her linen is frightening
tight and winding.
Eventually
everything folds.


 

The 2008 winner was Cruzanne Macalligan (née macalister)

“Writing binds together my love of observation, humanity and the perennial truths that pervade how the universe unfolds. Having said that, I find that my poetry really allowed me to be conversational and contemporary, taking a more light hearted approach to the deeper philosophical issues that poetry often explores.”

chagrin

I like the taste of new words:
facetious and verbose
both ambidextrous
in their verisimilitude of flavour
         then chagrin. It jarred –
at first I never heard it, or saw
it written down, then all at once
cupfuls filled my novels
and newspaper sections
and I tried it out in casual company
sipping, shyly,
much to their chagrin, of course,
and mispronounced it, once,
or twice, chay-grin.

I told my sister,
she’s been sipping with chagrin
at the God Delusion,

we both think Richard Dawkins is a tad
         misanthropic


take heed

I felt the earth quake tonight,
I was outside on a plastic chair
I was on the phone
I was bitching about lust lost and money spent
I was complaining about temperature and temperament
I was clutching snotty tissues
I was wanting and not having
I was hungry and full of chicken and peas
I was hearing myself echoing inanely and lonely
I was tired of time scooting past me while
I was holding mugs of tea and empty comforts
        and the earth shook
to remind me I was stepping on its coattails
and how good it is to live in a wooden house.


Nested

The last one to lie
through the dark with my
sighs, used my foot
like a telephone –

our platonic bodies
shifting for self
comfort.

And now my ears may have
folded
as I slept.

I’ll hold the delicate
pulsing tight between
my temples and eyelids –

and feel like a bird
once
nested and feathered
against a boulder,

you rolled over,
and I left

to gather no moss.