Poet Debbie Lim has won the 2022 Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize with a rumination exploring coping and the unwanted parts of the self.
Her work ‘The Process’ was one of 1836 entries from 787 poets in the 2022 competition, a record number of entries since the inception of the University of Southern Queensland-managed prize in 1999.
Ms Lim said she was honoured to be the 2022 recipient after following the prize for a number of years.
She said her work began as a writing experiment after coming across a poem called ‘Safety Behaviour’ by the British poet Emma Jeremy, whose opening line explored the possibility of placing unnamed thoughts ‘somewhere else’.
“I wanted to see if I could riff from this and make a poem of my own about putting an unnamed ‘it’ somewhere else,” she said.
“We all have aspects of ourselves or our past that we deem somehow unbearable or unwanted; some tangible, some less tangible.
“What they are precisely isn’t the point of ‘The Process’ but I became fascinated by trying to imagine the hypothetical possibilities and extreme methodologies involved in trying to come to terms with one’s personal demons.
”There’s a playfulness but also a dark undercurrent.’’
The poems ‘Kodokushi’ by Louise Nicholas and ‘Swimming’ by Joanne Watson were each awarded a Highly Commended.
For Ms Nicholas, this year was the second time one of her works was awarded a Highly Commended.
She said personal experience drove all her work and ‘Kodokushi’ was no exception. Her entry was inspired by a wry perspective of a low point in a neighbourly relationship.
Ms Nicholas expressed her admiration for Bruce Dawe’s ability to connect poet and reader and said his view of poetry continued to influence her work.
“Years ago I heard him say that a good poem offered several layers: the first reading would reward a person who was picking up a poetry book for the first time, but subsequent re-readings would uncover further riches,” she said.
“This has been at the centre of my practice ever since.”
University of Southern Queensland Professor Laurie Johnson was one of several judges and said the prize attracted poems from a spectrum of styles and subjects.
“Naturally, this year, we received a significant number of entries that dealt with the realities of life under the shadow of the pandemic,” he said.
“The winning poem for 2022 stood out to the judges because it did not overtly identify as a pandemic poem but its unsettling series of images spoke more to the feeling of the time.
“That the poem’s speaker seeks constantly to assert their own agency through these unsettling actions, always ultimately without success, conveys both hope and despair.”
Professor Johnson said the prize was a vital way to remember Bruce Dawe’s enormous contribution to Australian poetry and of carrying out his goal of encouraging the arts on a national scale.
The winning poem and those awarded highly commended are available on the Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize website.