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Dec
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2016 Martha Richardson Poetry Prize

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.

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