Winner announced ‐ Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2019
Rarotonga‐based poet Jessica Le Bas is the winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2019.
Le Bas currently lives in Nikao, Rarotonga, where her work takes her into Pa Enua, the outer islands of the Cook Islands. Her entry for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was drawn from a growing sequence of poems arising from her experiences living in what she describes as “the cultural wealth and wisdom of the extraordinary people of the Cook Islands”. Le Bas’s first collection of poetry, incognito (Auckland University Press, 2007), won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award, and her second Walking to Africa (Auckland University Press, 2009), was a finalist in the Ashton Wylie Book Awards.
Le Bas was awarded this year’s prize by Prize by judge Anne Michaels, Toronto Poet Laureate whose multiple awards include the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Americas, the Orange Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize.
Michaels described Le Bas’s poems as “alive with detail acutely observed. In the poet’s disciplined language and perception is a kind of tenderness ‐ for the natural world, and for human frailty.”
London‐based poet Nina Mingya Powles and Aucklander Michael Steven joined Le Bas as finalists. Anne Michaels also named Christchurch poet Jess Fiebig and Melbourne‐based Wen‐Juenn Lee as highly commended poets, from over 320 entries for this year’s prize.
The Sarah Broom Poetry Prize was established to celebrate the life and work of Sarah Broom (1972‐2013), author of Tigers at Awhitu and Gleam. It has run for six years in partnership with the Auckland Writers Festival, working to showcase and celebrate New Zealand poetry.
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Anne Michaels’ adjudicator’s comments:
Jessica Le Bas (winner)
Jessica Le Bas’s poems are alive with detail acutely observed. In the poet’s disciplined language and perception is a kind of tenderness ‐ for the natural world, and for human frailty. It is a poetic vision that understands how inextricable hope and despair, beauty and loss: of a cracked mango, Le Bas wisely advises, “eat it now”. In these poems, the world is passionately perceived.
Nina Mingya Powles (finalist)
These poems express both the power of memory and the grace of a present moment. They are a deeply felt exploration of language ‐ how it separates us and holds us close; how it can become, sometimes, the only home we have. The best compassion is born of clear seeing, and this is the compassion that imbues Nina Mingya Powles’s poems ‐ expressed with a generous, gentle, authority. These are poems of beautiful depth.
Michael Steven (finalist)
These poems speak of intimate encounters, often wordless, and of communions ‐ through music, plums shared along a path, a circling hawk, a gravestone. There is a quietude in these poems that reminds us just how loud the world has become, and how valuable those moments, the “tiny benefactions” that gently restore our attention to what’s important.
Jess Fiebig (commended)
By not turning away from a moment, these poems insist on understanding, finding meaning where it hurts. These poems are full of compassionate detail, direct and wondering, and “finding treasures” in plain sight.
Wen‐Juenn Lee (commended)
These are poems of witness ‐ vivid and fierce, seeking a kind of justice. In their passion to name what it means to live in exile ‐ from a place, from a language ‐ these deeply felt poems assert the right to be seen and known, not forgotten. Their seeking is a kind of restoration.