Run by Queensland Poetry Festival, and named in honour of a distinguished Queensland poet, the Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award for an Unpublished Poem is committed to encouraging poets throughout Australia. 2016 Selection panel: Chloe Wilson and Robert Sullivan
Unflinching in its examination of a speaker’s relationship to her body, Caitlin Maling’s ‘Conversion’ is a compelling poem, conversational in tone and yet full of striking images and unusual, intriguing angles on its subject. ‘The more of the world I take in, the more of the world I am’, the speaker claims, and this prolonged meditation on what it means to inhabit a ‘tide-affected’, changing body considers our physical relationships to space, time, and other bodies, always balancing a keen sense of enquiry with sensitivity, and a visceral, defiant tenderness.
Runner up (tie)
‘The Surface of Last Scattering’ by Brett Dionysius is a sequence of seven highly-accomplished sonnets, in which episodes from family life are intertwined with mathematical and scientific concepts. Deft and nuanced, it is an exercise in scale; in applying abstract scientific concepts to personal histories, suggesting that something like the mysterious forces which govern the workings of the universe also holds sway over human relationships.
‘Spider Silk’ suggestively choreographs a former relationship with sticky and trembling metaphors. Vibrations travel along the webbed lines of thought between the ‘neurasthenic’ partners. The subtext is always to the fore in this poem with its richly subconscious, at times melancholic narrative. The last stanza frames words as ‘silk casting’, realising and revealing that this suspended relationship remains in the air because of those ‘safety/signal lines’.
Highest QLD entry
‘Sand’ begins as the title suggests, in minutiae, then immediately contrasting with large-scale horizontal and vertical movements on the horizon, then in the air traced by birds to planes, before returning to earth among the towels of tourists sunbathing and listening to jazz in Abu Dhabi. This literal movement between details and people creates a suggestive friction between diverse experiences – the very sands between consumer culture, labourer culture, religiosity, relaxationism, masculinism, nationalism, escapism – mingling with the sand in the narrator’s pocket and shoe.