A POEM inspired by snippets of conversations at Stanthorpe and another about how to write poetry have won this year’s Ipswich Poetry Feast International Writing Competition.

Wynnum man Damen O’Brien’s poem, The Cold Snap, was the overall winner, earning him the prestigious Babies of Walloon Statuette.

For the first time in the competition’s 16-year history, a Babies of Walloon Statuette was also awarded in the School Age category with Victoria’s Emerson Hurley taking out the honour for his piece titled How to Write Poetry.

Mr O’Brien, who previously won the competition in 2013, said he was shocked and honoured to win the statuette.

“My parents live in Stanthorpe and it was inspired by a number of little events and conversations and then I kind of mashed them together,” he said.

“It didn’t quite happen that way, let’s say it’s more fantasy than real.”

Ipswich Poetry Feast holds special significance for Mr O’Brien.

“To be honest the Ipswich Poetry Feast really started me off because it was after my first win in 2013 that I actually felt like maybe I could do this poetry gig,” he said.

“Since then I’ve had quite a number of successes, but Ipswich certainly started me off.

“What I enjoy most is when you write something down and look at it and go ‘wow, did that actually come out of my pen or pencil’.

“It’s quite rare that it happens and it can be a word, a line or a whole poem. It’s a euphoric feeling, like hitting a hole in one. Once you’ve had that feeling you want to try and experience it again.”

For Emerson Hurley, winning the competition’s inaugural statuette in the School Age category was rewarding.

“It was very exciting, I’ve been in the competition for a couple of years now and I’ve always been eying off the silverware, so to speak,” he said.

“It was very rewarding to hear my work read in such a professional and engaging way.”

Emerson said his entry was inspired by American poet Wendell Berry’s work Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front and the idea of finding beauty in irrational things.

 “I really like the message of that poem which is an irrationalistic one and wanted to explore the idea that if faced with suffocating rationalism the way to behave is irrational,” he said.

Emerson said he thought more poetry should focus on the irrational parts of human experience, without intellectualism.

He said he planned to keep writing and wanted to develop his own voice, with his ultimate goal to get his work published.

“At the moment my work is heavily inspired by the work of others and I think it’s good to imitate other people in your early years, and it can be a good way to become a good technician, but I would like to try to develop my own unique voice,” he said.

Launched in 2002, the Ipswich Poetry Feast was inspired by literary legend Henry Lawson’s connection to the region.

In 1891 he wrote The Babies of Walloon after the tragic drowning of sisters Bridge Kate and Mary Jane Broderick in a waterhole at Walloon.

A memorial to the sisters takes pride of place at Walloon’s Henry Lawson Bicentennial Park.

Poetry Feast winner Damen O’Brien.

The Cold Snap

This is Stanthorpe weather: the clouds
draw a fickle quilt over the horizon but
make no rain. We stand nearly in the fireplace,
which is devouring its ironbark like desperation.
One farm over, the guns boom on time,
and the Corella’s rise desultorily, circle
and return to the remains of the crop.
The scarcrow’s salute has stopped worrying
them and there’s nothing else to eat but frost.

This is Stanthorpe weather: so the
rain cuts into me while I carry out
the survivors from the coop’s massacre,
limp and bloody, shocked beyond reaching.
We plugged last night’s entry holes
but the predator has found them now
and will not stop, these hens are lost.
The blood specks the straw and the
guns shout on cue, shaking the chicken wire.

Out of the wind, the town’s women
cradle their lattes in the only cafe they will
drink in. The other’s owner has a
mad son, the boycotters tell me, a killer
of chickens when he he was young and when
that herd of sheep were found with the straight
edges of their throats staring at the sky,
gossip said that he’d have been the one with a
steaming knife stumbling away into the dark.

Everyone knows who the killers are.
A neighbour leans over his fence and tell us
of marsupials we’ve never heard of. Phascogales.
Google has a glamour shot of them, modelling
cuteness and teeth. When your birds are got at
it’s the Phascogales shimmying in, needlepoint smile.
But, he pauses for the sky to roil and brood above,
the frost will bring them to an urgent hunger.
Everyone’s heard of them in town but me.

I never witness what has taken the chickens.
Some nocturnal predator, an opportunist
for easy protein. The weather has turned.
The Fort-Knox coop stands half built, dripping.
I learn late that the pariah cafe was firebombed
one night and has closed its doors. The town keeps
its own sentences and justice. The guns keep firing
and the bird lift more slowly every time, but no one
expects more bodies until the weather shifts again.

Damen O'Brien

Overall winner School Age Emerson Hurley.

Ipswich Poetry Feast 2018 winners:

  • 5 to 7 Years: The Ender Farmer, Leo McNally (Karalee, Queensland)
  • 8 to 10 Years: Henry’s Poem, Amaeh Reed (Trinity Beach, Queensland)
  • 11 to 13 Years: An Ethical Irony, Michael Swift (Como, Western Australia), The Mansion That Time Forgot, Grace Longhi (Holy Cross School, Trinity Park, Cairns, Queensland)
  • 14 to 15 Years: Picturesque, Mysheka Field (Marsden, Queensland)
  • 16 to 17 Years: How to Write Poetry, Emerson Hurley (Brighton East, Victoria)
  • Open Age Bush Poetry: Bluey, Tom Mcilveen (Port Macquarie, New South Wales)
  • Open Age Other Poetry: The Cold Snap, Damen O’Brien (Wynnum, Queensland)
  • Open Age Local Poets: Rough Country, David Gagen (Silkstone, Queensland)
  • Open Age Picture Ipswich Theme: Golden Reign, Kelly Millar (Clayfield, Queensland)
  • Ipswich Poetry Feast Encouragement Award 5 to 17 Years: Fishing Ever After, Sophia Brady, (Albany Creek, Queensland)
  • Ipswich Poetry Feast Encouragement Award Open Age: The Fossicker, Melissa Harrison (Herne Hill, Western Australia)
  • Ipswich Poetry Feast School Award: Holy Cross School (Trinity Park, Queensland)
  • Overall winner School Age and recipient of the Babies of Walloon statuette: How to Write Poetry, Emerson Hurley (Brighton East, Victoria)
  • Overall winner Open Age and recipient of the Babies of Walloon statuette: The Cold Snap, Damen O’Brien (Wynnum, Queensland)

The Babies of Walloon monument.

How to Write Poetry

Think before feeling.
Come to questions only
when you have their answers
securely in your grasp.
Touch pen to paper
always with trepidation.
Fear the critics. Accept
nothing but perfection.
And you will produce poetry
fit only to be studied.
No mark of you will
be left. As though your
poetry were an act
of suicide. Write
ecstatically. Seek our suffering
and find joy in it.
Descend into thirty-six hours’
sleepless purgatory
and awaken to dreams
dreamed in all
dimensions. Write letters
to your congressman
asking him how
his days go by. Write
letters to strangers
telling them what
must be done.
Unmake yourself.
This is the only way
to slip piece by
piece through the keyhole
of a meter. Breaking
your heart as often
as possible will help
with this. Have an
affair. Try it. Write
exclusively for children.
Literacy declines
with age. Love
your reader violently. Hate
your read with
ecumenical passion.
Love the fool
foolishing to love his
fate. Write it
all down. Ignore all
advice. Including this.

Emerson Hurley

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