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Fatherhood inspires UC’s international prize-winning poem

Amanda Jones

10 October 2016: A poem inspired by fatherhood and loss has won the $15,000 University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize for 2016 while a piece on a German general using the estate of the author who wrote War and Peace claimed the $5,000 runner-up award.

More than 1,200 poems were submitted by over 700 poets worldwide. First prize was awarded to US-based Michael Lavers for Your Father at Fourteen while South Africa’s PQR Anderson was named runner up for Heinz Guderian at Yasnaya Polyana.

US poet Michael Lavers said he was “shocked and thrilled” to have won with his poem Your Father at Fourteen which he wrote over a two-week period last spring.

“To see that something that I wrote for my children is finding an audience on the other side of the world and making connections with people there is truly humbling,” he said.

In his winning poem, Mr Lavers describes his teenage self for his four-year-old son Isaak.

“Since becoming a father I have tried to purge my poems of what is frivolous, things that I used to think mattered, but now in this new context of fatherhood, matter much less, or not at all. Both my parents died before I was really old enough, or curious enough to ask them real questions about themselves and about life.

“So my thinking before writing the poem was that I would try to capture part of my own experience for my son, to put it down on paper in case he's curious one day.”

Mr Lavers' poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2015, Arts & Letters, West Branch, 32 Poems, Hayden’s Ferry Review and The Hudson Review, among other publications. He has a Master of Fine Arts from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. He teaches poetry at Brigham Young University.

The runner-up entry Heinz Guderian at Yasnaya Polyana tells the story of how the German general set up headquarters at writer Leo Tolstoy’s former home at a pivotal point during World War II.

“I came to Guderian and Yasnaya Polyana simply because of the enormous coincidence that the great Blitzkrieg general should have been brought up short at the estate of the author of War and Peace.

“The whole thing is ghoulish, too, but I felt it had drama and pressed for some reflection on art and war. People get into messes; war is the worst of them, and evil, but love and art – which we think of positively – are vain (hopes) and not immaculate.”

Mr Anderson said he was thrilled to be recognised for the piece which he said took about six months to complete, adding that: “writing to a deadline helps.”

“It’s magnificent that this prize exists, as those of us who write find all too few occasions for the proper projection of our work.”

PQR Anderson has published two books of poetry, Litany Bird and Foundling's Island as well as academic essays and articles on topics including photography in the Second World War and Xhosa war-doctor Makhanda. He lectures in English at the University of Cape Town.

The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize is facilitated by the University’s International Poetry Studies Institute, with entries coming from as far as Macedonia, Qatar, Slovakia, and the Philippines and as close as Belconnen.

Writers were asked to submit a previously unpublished poem, in English – translations were not eligible – and up to 50 lines in length.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Deep Saini congratulated the winners and thanked all the entrants for their submissions.

“This is the third year of the prize and the first in which I have been involved. I am delighted to be part of this initiative, as I believe poetry expresses a great many of the important things that human beings are able to share.”

“This prize demonstrates that poetry is a global art, and one that has the capacity to connect people from many different nations, cultures and languages through their own, particular and careful ways of speaking,” Professor Saini said.

“The University of Canberra is proud to bring poets together in this way, and to acknowledge the importance of their work. Poets speak for all of us and we, at the University of Canberra, are determined to hear and honour their words.”

The winners of the inaugural Health Poetry Prize were also announced at an event held on campus on 16 September. The prize, sponsored by the Dean of the Faculty of Health and supported by the International Poetry Studies Institute, aims to inspire others through poetry to consider the journey to live life well. It invited poems that focused on mental or physical health, and that investigated what 'living life well' means and was open to anyone over the age of 18 and living in Australia.

First prize was awarded to Shari Kocher for The Glimpse, second prize went to Sandra Renew for her work Mungo and third prize was awarded to Andy Jackson for There was no consolation.