Cherie Moselen talks to two local poets about shared geography and an award that puts them both on a prestigious literary map.
WHAT are the odds that two Warrandyte poets who live on the same road would win the same major poetry award, one after the other?
Somewhat doubtful, given the Melbourne Poets Union (MPU) International Poetry Competition annually sees 300-400 poems narrowed to a shortlist of a dozen or less.
Chance is a fine thing, but artistic skill is most likely the reason residents John Jenkins and Carmel Macdonald-Grahame are hot property as the 2013 and 2014 winners of this high profile competition*.
It’s a good thing I manage to interview them together as neither are the type to toss accolades on their own literary bonfires.
Carmel is glowing about rising stars like Eltham writer Lisa Jacobsen, who has been published in Australia, Canada, Indonesia, the UK and the United States. (One of Warrandyte’s treasured Grand Read performers, Lisa also won the Adelaide Festival John Bray Poetry Award last year and was shortlisted in four other national awards.)
However, she makes no mention of having two poems recently longlisted in this year’s fiercely contested Ron Pretty Award.
“It’s a remarkable achievement on the back of the 2014 MPU win and recent publication of her first novel by University of Western Australia Press,” John Jenkins says, filling me in on Carmel’s successes, but waving away any attempt I make to talk about his own as an award-winning poet and celebrated writer of over 20 books published in various genres.
There are more than a few literary triumphs between the two, and while both allow awards establish credibility and garner peer recognition, their value to each seems to lie in the confidence they generate: that the work was on the right track.
“Sometimes I revisit old writing that I’ve abandoned and resuscitate it, because I feel there is still something vital there and a particular competition might be a likely place for airing it,” says Carmel. “It gives me an endpoint and makes me finish the unfinished work, which is a reward in itself. It’s an added bonus if it wins.”
John agrees: “I often persist with a piece of writing, drafting and redrafting, and the formal appreciation means the extra work was worth it. It validates the process – I’ve sent it off to a competition and the judge liked it, the piece is finished and it’s as good as it can be.”
However, Carmel says she is “chuffed” about winning this particular award.
“Part of the pleasure with the MPU prize was being able to follow in John’s footsteps a little, as we’ve occasionally worked on poetry together. Also, the Melbourne Poets Union is a special point of connection for me,” she says.
“When I moved to Victoria seven years ago, it was through this ‘union of poets’ that I found out what was going on in Melbourne for writers.”
“Of course, now I have an abundance of artistic connections virtually at my doorstep, many of whom come together from time to time at the Grand Read.”
Her mention of The Grand Read – a Warrandyte Festival event, in its 18th year – launches John onto a topic he is happy to talk about and is clearly fond of.
“We have a wealth of literary talent in our shire, an embarrassment of riches really, and Warrandyte is lucky to have a fantastic annual event in which to celebrate some of them.”
“There’s lot’s of lovely food, and drinks at the bar, which gives The Grand Read an enjoyable and festive buzz,” he says.
“Every year there are special guests, some with international reputations, so the literary quality of the work is very fine. But there’s never anything stiff or stodgy about it. MC Jock Macneish sets exactly the right tone and the readers are great performers of their own work, so there’s a dimension of entertainment.”
He adds: “Diary readers, certainly anyone interested in writing, should come along and be prepared to be surprised and delighted by a great night out.”
Both Carmel (as an organiser of the event) and John will be appearing at Warrandyte’s Grand Read, upstairs at The Grand Hotel at 7.30pm on Tuesday March 24.
For more information about the event, contact Warrandyte Neighbourhood House on 9844 1839 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*John’s 2013 MPU winning poem is titled When he read the poem in the room above the stairs. Carmel’s 2014 MPU winning poem is titled Wreck.