Yesterday I learned that my poem ‘Christmas Day in Harlaxton’ won the 2016 Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize. This is the second time I have won this prize, having been a previous winner in 2014. The poem is not yet up at Ballarat Writers, so I’ve included a version here. My thanks to both Ballarat Writers and to the competition judge Emilie Zoey Baker.
Her comments on the poem were as follows:
Winner: Christmas day in Harlaxton
This poem really stood out from the crowd. It’s a beautifully composed piece with flawless execution.
Christmas day in Harlaxton is claustrophobic, detailed and powerful. Like the writer I felt like I was trapped inside it and then relieved I wasn’t.
The imagery here is cinematic, dusty, hot and detailed. It has a grotesque beauty and is a powerful portrait of an Australian moment from a very unique poetic voice. A conga line of patriarchs, peeling blacked bits off barbecued birds / One of the piss fuelled sons is shaping up to the old man. They shake the earth like diprotodons beside the hills hoist.
And now, here’s the poem in its entirety:
Christmas Day in Harlaxton
On Christmas morning, the devil slips under the edge
of a green canvas marquee – another family tradition
to keep the festive underbelly from view. There’s a
pecking order of men, propped on kitchen chairs –
dragged outside without ceremony. They squash the
bruise-yellow vinyl flat, sweat-patched and moustachioed
in ruggers and singlets and rubber thongs. The palette of
khaki, mustard and mud – everywhere, a regular truth in
the threat of sex and muscle. They eat first, a conga line
of patriarchs, peeling blackened bits off barbequed birds.
The plastic tub of tabouleh up-ended near the door: we
don’t want any of that fucking weirdo shit here. The women
sigh, deep inside themselves. This is just another day to
‘get through’. At the sink, a pot-bellied uncle grabs a niece
from behind. She starts, fresh-skinned inside a sleeveless
cotton shift – the rough two-step and lark just enough
to make nubile flesh. Downstairs, the kids run and
shriek in sarsaparilla-high notes. The eldest boy-cousin
barks orders from the top of the fence. The others
laugh and call him the King. Little girls bring offerings
on paper serviettes as the devil lurches off his stumps.
And before plum pudding even makes it out, one of
the piss-fuelled sons is shaping up to the old man. They
shake the earth like diprotodons beside the hills-hoist.
Hate-faced and cussing, their fists in knots of flesh and
rage. The in-law from the city waits it out – keeps his
blonde-headed girls away from their grandfather’s lap.
When Boxing Day dawns, there will be nothing left
for the sun to beat to a pulp. They’ll sleep it all off.
Wives and aunts will unpack the same old excuses.