The Hazards – Sarah Holland-Batt – 2016 WA Premier’s Literary Award (Poetry)

Onto the last of the shortlist for the 2016 Western Australian Premier’s Literary Awards for poetry and the University of Queensland Press’ “The Hazards” by Sarah Holland-Batt.
Sarah Holland-Batt is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the Queensland University of Technology and her first collection “Aria” (UQP, 2008), won a number of literary awards, including the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, the artsACT Judith Wright Prize, and the FAW Anne Elder Award, and was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Kenneth Slessor Prize and the Queensland Premier’s Judith Wright Calanthe Award. However as I’ve pointed out in the comments for another post, prior awards and recognition mean nothing when it comes to reading and assessing a writer’s latest works, let’s hope judges aren’t swayed by “form”.
This collection is made up of fifty-five poems broken into four sections, a rich collection using descriptive and lyric language touching on the themes of decay, violence and death. Poems that are so earthy you feel you are down in the steaming mulch on a humid day, looking above to the ferns.
Through observations of art, more specifically paintings, and frequently using an ekphrastic style (as self-described in the “notes”; an ‘ekphrastic’ poem a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning. – Taken from the Poetry Foundation website.) Poems early in the collection reflecting upon British settlement, convicts, Aboriginals with spears, through to describing the landscape, the flora (less fauna) in the poem. In “An Illustrated History of Settlement” describing Emanuel Phillips Fox’s “The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770” (1902), I personally had the image of this artwork coming immediately to mind and the painting was not referenced in the poem itself, as an iconic painting there was no need for the specific reference, the imagery so vivid, you knew the reference;
On a far headland, two black men
stand warily, one holding up
a toothpick spear
as if to puncture the clouds’ drapery.
The first section rooted in Australian themes, flora and histories. The poem “Desert Pea” bringing the expanse of the desert firmly to mind, simply through the construction, the spaces matching the endless horizons, the silence in between the lines, the splash of red from the flower and the massive night skies all brought home in a short revelation:
Desert Pea
Like the pursuit of fire
a wind stirs the rocks,
summons into hear
a kind of cardinal calm.
This is the violence
of distance.
No end, no horizon.
Only desert floor,
henges of red
and the absolute artifice of sky.
I cannot stand
the certain world:
rock grass and thistle,
animal thirst
invading my eye.
Give me the night, the stars
streaming past me
huge and soundless.
Give me the silence
of the mind.
The rich descriptive language often creating mind pictures and even sounds, for example a vulture becomes a “Shaman of transfiguration,/high priest of the day’s death march,/he is the afterlife of all things:/child, star, pig, the small circumscribed lives/ of the apes and fleas.” And when the vulture eats the flesh, a surgeons language is used, gristle, gizzards and scalpels “cut and claw”.
Section II of the collection are all poems in homage to animals, vulture, toucan, capuchin, macaw, eel, parrot, green ant, cat, possum, muttonbird, and crab. Section III visits art and great artists, travel through Europe. Another ekphrastic poem being “Reclining Nude” reflecting and illuminating the controversial painting by Lucien Freud “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping”, a painting that once held the record for the highest priced work of art by a living artist (purchased by Roman Abramovich for £17.2 million (US$33.6 million) in May 2008), it depicts the nude portrait of a Job Centre worker Sue Tilley, at the time of the painting she weighed 127 kilograms.
Section IV ends with reflections of a worldly style, places inhabited, love, partners, all must “have us in the end”, and America. A collection that although worldly, point out the “hazards” that exist in the everyday, animals that are endangered, environments that are disappearing, innocent times that no longer exist, failed loves…
We have so little time left. We should love. (from “Ensign”)
A very rich collection, like the hummus in the forest at the feet of all the trees that appear, this is rich in styles, language, imagery and experience. For mine the most assured and timeless collection of poems on the shortlist. A collection that will stand the test of time, personally a work I will be hoping takes out the main gong, although all works on the shortlist are fine works and any of them taking home the main prize would not surprise. Although “The Hazards” maybe my favourite I’m not going to get grumpy if any of the other four works win.


When I return to the blog, it will be Women In Translation Month, a month long celebration that I participate in each year, where the only books I will review will be in translation and written by a woman. I have every intention of staying firmly with the Spanish language for the whole month, with fourteen books sitting on my “to be read” pile written by women. My first review will come from Chile (yes I’m returning), stay tuned for a review of an experimental fiction work.

6 thoughts on “The Hazards – Sarah Holland-Batt – 2016 WA Premier’s Literary Award (Poetry)

  1. Pingback: Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards and Queensland Literary Awards | Messenger's Booker (and more)

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  3. Pingback: 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlist | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  4. Pingback: 2016 Queensland Literary Awards shortlists | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

  5. Pingback: 2016 WA Premier’s Book Awards shortlists | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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