If you thought poetry was a dying art, think again because a university academic from Wagga Wagga has just picked up a $15,000 prize for his work.
Dr Lachlan Brown, a senior lecturer in English at Charles Sturt University’s School of Social Work and Arts, was recently announced the winner of the 40th annual Newcastle Poetry Prize.
His poem, Any Saturday, 2021: Running Westward, draws from his routine 20-30km Saturday runs around his adopted city, particularly the 42km Wiradjuri Trail which takes walkers, cyclists and runners past many important sites for the traditional custodians of the land – the Wiradjuri people – and loops near Lachlan’s house.
“I can just pop onto it at any time, run a section and return,” he says.
But from this ordinary, repetitive endeavour, Lachlan penned a meditation of sorts on what he observes, contemplates, reflects and broods on as he hotfoots his way through the city on a familiar track with its everyday scenes.
The poetry work took him a year to complete.
Lachlan has been living in Wagga Wagga since 2011, having grown up in southwest Sydney suburb Macquarie Hills, which he says has largely influenced his work to date.
It’s only now – having spent a decade in Wagga Wagga – he feels qualified to write about the Riverina city.
Qualified is right. His body of work includes accomplishments in the Sydney University Henry Lawson poetry prize, the Macquarie Fields poetry prize, and the Hermes best poem award.
Lachlan has also been shortlisted for the Blake Poetry Prize, and been shortlisted and commended in the 2014 Newcastle Poetry Prize; highly commended in the 2015 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize and Canberra Poetry Prize; and runner-up in the 2016 Judith Wright Overland Poetry Prize.
His poems have appeared in journals including Cordite, Mascara, Heat, Rabbit, Southerly, St Mark’s Review and Island. He has published two collections with Giramondo Publishing: Limited Cities (2012), which was commended for the Mary Gilmore Award, and Lunar Inheritance (2017)
Lachlan has given readings at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Write Around the Murray Festival, Newcastle Young Writers’ Festival, Emerging Writers’ Festival, Noted Literary Festival, and at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature Conference.
Despite his accomplishments, winning the Newcastle Poetry Prize came as a shock to him.
“It was very surprising,” says Lachlan. “I don’t think I write poems that traditionally might do well in some poetry prizes.
“This is a poem about textures of everyday experiences that are not poetic in the normal sense of the word.
“But I feel very honoured.”
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Lachlan says he is immensely thankful to the judges, Associate Professor Jill Jones and Dr Toby Fitch, for their careful and attentive reading of all the submitted pieces.
“Poetry is a vital part of Australian culture – the fabric of life, with the possibilities for political transformation,” he says.
“I’m very grateful for their openness to experimentation, to strange poetic explorations, and to contemporary experiences from regional Australia.
“At a time when textures of the everyday have changed so drastically for many, I hope poetry can continue to run its fingers over the big and small questions of existence in surprising ways.”
Lachlan congratulated all the shortlisted and winning poems, written by poets whose work he has long admired.
There were also plaudits for his PhD student, Connor Weightman, whose poem, Perpetual Cataclysm Machine, was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize.
Lachlan was also commissioned to develop a poem in conjunction with ABC Everyday, titled Vox Proximate (a pan-demic-toum), which recently featured on the ABC’s Facebook page, receiving 27,000 views.