I'm reading for takahē this week, around 340 poems. Last month I read around 1,300 poems for the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Society Anthology. I've read a lot of free verse. I've read a lot of poems about the New Zealand landscape, seascape. Don't get me wrong, I l love free verse, I love the landscape ... loss ... love. But the poems that stand out are the ones that experiment; they have a confident voice, they use irony, they play with tone. The form is exactly right for the content. I get to the end of them and sigh. Or I get to the end of them and I don't know what it is that has made me shiver. They're complex. They don't tell. They're mysterious. I have to read them again. And again. And then I throw my arms up in the air and close my eyes and say, Jesus, that was good.
That's what happened when I read the winning poem for the NZPS competition, Bogusia Wardein's "Bathing in Melancholy", judged by Anne French. I didn't get it on the first reading. But some of the lines were jumping out at me: 'The use of the word rainy is deliberate. There is a reference to / Democritus in the poem. I recall he plucked out his eyes / in order to think ...'. It made me want to go back and read it again. And again. And then the bathing in melancholy of the title struck me. This was more than about writing poetry. 'I am writing for God'. What a god-awful thing to do, but here is she, here we all are, doing it. This is a winning poem all right. It captures the paradox at the heart of all good poetry, the universal dilemma in the particular experience. It's a hard thing to pull off. And I think it's achieved through craft -- playing with and refining the ideas that originate in language. Noticing the way language shapes our experience and then experimenting with shape, form, sound to re-new that experience, make new. Surprise.
You'll be able to read all of Bogusia's poem in November when the new anthology is launched. Read the judge's report here.