Our current "Poet of the Year" - the 14th recipient of the Story Inc Poetry Prize - is Holly Morton.
".........encountering faces I only know from hazy photographs of
kids in footie pyjamas, Hot Wheels gripped in their chubby fingers. And yet we are
laughing and teasing and falling into that place where our almost selves reside. It
makes me wonder if it is possible to miss something you
nearly had. Like a stronger accent, or a tan,
or the kind of bonds that might have been permanent, if only I’d been in the right
place at the right time."
This is how the Prize came about.
Way back in the early 2000s, Story Inc was poring over the great quotes, sayings, poems and whakatauki of our nation for a 'Wall of Words' to be installed in what is now the Vero Centre on Shortland Street in Auckland.
Getting the blessing of the Good and Great owners of the quotes was not always easy. James had to delicately debate with Sir Edmund Hillary by phone, via Lady Hillary, for permission to use “Well, we knocked the bastard off” – Sir Ed’s famous comment after scaling Everest. Apparently his mother had been appalled at his language back in 1953, and he still felt strange that this off-hand remark had become world famous. Fortunately, after a few minutes of back-and-forth, the great man relented.
Of course we also wanted "I do not dream of Sussex Downs/ Or quaint old England's quaint old towns..." But Denis Glover's estate had a fixed rule requiring payment for public use of his verse, to benefit his widow. Fair enough, of course – but that left us in a bit of a dilemma with regards to the other “quotees” who had not asked for payment.
We also had to have "We don't know how lucky we are!" But on the phone from Melbourne John Clarke wondered aloud, in his twangy trans-Tasman accent, as to why he should donate his words to benefit an international insurance company by decorating its new skyscraper….
Also fair enough.
We asked Bill Manhire, another of our quotees, for advice (he had been involved with the project from the start). His suggestion: to contribute the costs we would have paid for rights to endow a modest Poetry Prize at the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University.
Everyone seemed happy with this: the Wall of Words was completed; and the Story Inc Poetry Prize was born.
When we’re in Auckland we still drop in and watch people standing in front of the wall - reciting poems or phrases to themselves, shifting from one cluster of thoughts to another. For such a low-tech installation, it’s strangely interactive - almost addictive. And of course, it's full of the words that tell our stories, define us, describe us, congratulate us and slap us in the face.
As do the poems of our 14 wonderful prize winners.
And as our own work over the years in many different media – words, pictures, moving pictures and spaces – also strives to do.
Congratulations to Holly, and to all our prize winners. Long live poetry.
- Steve and James
Click here to read Holly Morton’s poems and those of previous winners