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Poem of hope, memory wins

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Meredith Watson is the winner of the 2022 ACU Prize for Poetry. Photo: Supplied
Meredith Watson is the winner of the 2022 ACU Prize for Poetry. Photo: Supplied

Hope and the power of memory are themes that celebrated Sydney poet Meredith Wattison explored in her winning poem for this year’s Australian Catholic University Prize for Poetry.

The 59-year-old was awarded the $10,000 first prize for The Loose Wild Grace Of It, which was her response to the theme of ‘hope’.

The poem explores five experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the day she was told she would be a grandmother, and the day she learned of the death of a friend to suicide.

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“It just shocks you to lose a friend that way, it was such a difficult thing, just so tragic. And I had a memory of falling out of a tree as a child, an event which never happened, and I wondered why I had this memory, but it really helped me at that time.

“Things from childhood can fortify us down the line. I had that to go to, and it’s what helped me start to recover … When I saw the theme this year was hope, I thought if I could offer some comfort and hope to others through this poem that would be wonderful and it’s a privilege to be able to do so. I think poetry today is getting stronger and I think there are so many paths into it now.”

In her 40-decade career the poet, who lives on the rural outskirts of Sydney, has produced seven books and won many awards.

Another poem she wrote during the pandemic lockdown, Old Masters, was also shortlisted for the ACU prize.

“The Loose Wild Grace Of It is a beautifully dense, wonderfully rich poem, full of riffs of different kinds, yet ultimately it’s anchored in the ineffable.”

Born in Bankstown in 1963, Ms Wattison’s calling as a poet began early – writing since the age of 12, she was first published in Poetry Australia when she was 19 and won her first prize at the age of 25.

She was winner of the Gwen Harwood Prize in 2017 and was shortlisted for the 2022 Blake Poetry Prize.

ACU Poetry Prize judge Professor Robert Carver described the winning entry as “a complex, learned poem which is also playful, but it’s playing with some of the most painful things imaginable”.

“The Loose Wild Grace Of It is a beautifully dense, wonderfully rich poem, full of riffs of different kinds, yet ultimately it’s anchored in the ineffable,” Professor Carver said.

Winning second place was Kevin Smith of the Sunshine Coast for Roofer and Mark Tredinnick of Bowral for Cubist Landscape. ACU Vice-President Fr Anthony Casamento said the more than 500 entries to this year’s prize were a sign of a hope for culture and the arts.

All 94 shortlisted poems are published in Hope, an anthology that can be purchased from www.acu.edu.au/prizeforpoetry

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