2013 Collaborative Competition

Judges’ Comments

We were pleased with the variety that we saw as we read through the entries in this competition. We discovered stories and poetry woven together; we witnessed cases of experimentation with language and form; we admired pieces that explored variety in voice and tone. From humour to suspense to the esoteric, these entries captivated and challenged us as readers, and as competition judges. 

We selected six entries that we felt topped the list – four prizewinners and two honourable mentions. These are all exemplary for their originality and attention to language and story (even the poetry carries a strong sense of story). And each of them shows what can come from collaboration: that the process will change the outcome, take the creative endeavour in new directions and create something altogether original and surprising.

First Place

We selected two entries to share this position because of their originality and approach to the task, and because of the way they set ambitious goals and challenges. These two entries both took on the challenge of collaboration with great gusto, and the results show ingenuity of language and form.

Ahi Kāthe more ambitious of the leading pieces, sets out complicated challenges and, for the most part, achieves its far-reaching goals. We’re impressed by the way this piece tells a story about events that may or may not be real within the frame of the story, and the way it goes about complementing the story with the poem. The weaving of words is deliberate and complex, and we specifically note the writers’ attention to movement and pace. There are parts that render the reader breathless, and from the opening – “Howls pierced the fog of my dreams” – the reader is pulled into the frenzied pace of this world.

We note also the careful attention to the prose, with phrasings that are just right. In terms of content, the link to nature, and the themes of destruction and salvation make a strong impact. The personal story, and the questions that linger about the line between reality and fantasy, are woven together well. Phrasings like this keep the ambiguity consistent throughout the story

“Laugh in the shade of the slavering beast
let fire light his eyes and make death tame
the boy is mad”

and the repetition of the theme of madness and running from a fiery enemy (an enemy within? also ambiguous) keeps the reader intrigued to the end.

Some of the rhymes in this piece feel less natural than the prose, in particular in the final couplet. Despite that, however, we feel that this piece deserves to share first place for its originality and its consistency in tone and pace – very hard to achieve in a collaborative effort, and well executed here.

  … for a coffee?/Cups is the strongest of the poetry entries and we applaud it for its quiet tone and pacing.  This work is balanced and soft, from the opening lines of the first part, which bring the reader right into an intimate, quiet moment of breath and sound and implied smell, to the opening lines of the second part: those two austere cups, small, white, there on the sill, lips touching (lovely!).

We like the close attention to language and the soft weaving of ideas in both parts of this piece – the way the cups and words and love and language flow smooth and soft. We like the rhythm of

“and thoughts stuttering
till they slide too fast”,

for example, and

“… i cannot read
around the curve
of space-time…”

and also that horizon in the final stanza of the first part. And we are moved equally in the second part by the vivid images of a cup

“freckled with buttercups,
stippled with lipstick and coffee,
coastered.”

and the final lonely

“Place my thumbprint
over his.”

which is marvellously quiet and understated.

Both parts of this collaboration are effective in language, sound, image and emotion.  The two closings – the syncopated heart and the quiet thumbprint – are just lovely. A captivating effort that makes a lasting impression.

Both poems contain some lines that feel a little more forced than others. We stumbled on “aromatic air arising” (Does air arise or rise? This gets in the way of the flow, although we recognise and like the assonance here) and in

“the throbbed perfection
of our caffeinated
cup …”

for example. But is a minor suggestion that the writers see if any of the lines may be tweaked further. It is not something that stands in the way of this work receiving a first place in this competition.

Second Place

In the forest, by the stream/Shade. This piece is a top candidate for the smooth textures and the repetitions. We are impressed by the strong opening of the first part – the way those lines cascade one from the other – and the wonderful use of image and unexpected language in the opening of the second part –

“Times like this, places like here, she feels like she is eating gravity …”

We appreciate the quiet feeling of the opening poem, and how well the two parts balance each other. We like the way this piece loops back to the beginning, in words and image. We like the stillness, and we admire the last line as much as the first – a sure sign that the piece works as a whole, with connections made across style and form by both authors.

This piece, taken as a whole, creates a mood, a setting – and it does it well. We recognise how the writers put a good deal of thought into the words they chose and how the images fold and unfold around each other – indeed, how they reflect off each other. We admire the way the themes of touch, movement and gaze are explored here. And the final image – her looking back over the reeds, and the stillness – creates a lasting impression.

A couple of word choices stood out for us as being less effective: “the orgiastic pull of the city” didn’t work for us, and although the use of “apostatised” is correct, the unusual word choice pulls us out of the mood of the piece. We also suggest revisiting the use of semicolons in the piece and considering whether commas could be used instead.

These are minor distractions but attention to these details will further strengthen the work. Overall, this piece captivates our attention for its sustained mood and language.

A Ghost at my Shoulder. We admire this piece for its literary and historical references, beginning with the title, and closing with the last image of the

“faces in the water talking across
the wind worried sun shy
sea”.

Marvellous, strong ending.

We also like the themes of memory and confusion/ past and future/ possibility and doom and the way clear, vivid colour is explored alongside the smoky grey of monotones. The specificity of Rorschach blots and the You Tube orangutan are both memorable and appropriate. The way the two sides work back and forth with each other are also very effective here, most exemplified by the image/idea of opening the eyes in the penultimate stanza,

“ … I look past
his shoulder, and through the window”

contrasted so beautifully, so bitterly, with the closing stanza.

We recommend the writers revisit some parts to explore further edits – for example, the first italic stanza on the second page (the contrast between the random colour of the rainbow and the monochrome scratchings of the author) feels slightly over-written and could be done with more delicacy, perhaps, especially since the themes have already been introduced in earlier stanzas. Balancing that, however, are phrasings with a specificity of language that we greatly admire:

“He dissects my clotted secrets
with a blunt blade”

and

“that bright canary of memory”

Overall, this piece shows the back-and-forth of collaboration, the way two writers can explore strong central themes, using varying approaches to voice and sound and rhythm. It paints a specific setting and mood very well.

Honourable Mentions

The Gallery. We enjoyed this piece for the way the story and characters unfold. It’s well written with a few unexpected twists. And we like the play that the authors clearly enjoyed while writing this – the theoretical language around the discussion of art, for example, and the small details assigned to the characters. We like that it avoids sentimentality in the end, when we discover the object of the artist’s painting; that is well done. And we like the names here: Cedric, Rima, Alistair. All distinct names that suit the characters. We are not as fond of Mr Suave Eyes, but recognise it’s in keeping with the tone and mood of the piece.

In terms of collaborative storytelling, what we like best about this piece is that we can’t tell when the writing switches hands or how this was collaborative writing.

We think this story could be improved by examining places where the story tends toward cliché – the gallery snobs, even if lively, are a little predictable, and even the idea of the disinterested husband tends toward a caricature as opposed to a fully realized character, which means that his change of heart at the end is less effective than it could have been. Also, this piece pays most attention to plot, and we think that with just a little tweaking, the characters could be a shade deeper, and the prose could be made more elegant.

What we like best about this piece is that it shows that storytelling can be fun – and that is commendable indeed.

This Other Door. This piece deserves special mention for the way it plays with perspective and introduces two voices to bring the reader into the moment and the scene. Here one finds a story that explores mood, character, love, mystery and suspense – all wrapped up in one very short piece.

It’s an interesting concept, and we enjoyed some of the strong language and imagery, especially in the first part – the white rectangle of light, the tear in the time-space fabric, those infinite other doors. The opening of this piece brings into focus the agony of the possibilities that no longer exist alongside the desire that they might, that they could, that they should.  Nicely done!

We feel the second part over-explains things and tries too hard to capture the voice of the child – sometimes relying too heavily on clichés and language we expect from a child. The second part needs editing and trimming, to be sure – but perhaps this is in part because it’s a more difficult task to write from the child’s perspective.

This piece is consistent in tone and feel; it captures a mood and a moment; it paints the scene very well. And both parts embody a strong voice. All that is to be commended.

Michelle Elvy and Tim Jones
15 December 2013

First Placed Entries

Ahi Kā

by Eileen Mueller and Alicia Ponder

Howls pierced the fog of my dreams. I clutched Ahi, shaking her awake. “Are they real?” Yowling wound through my ear canals, ricocheting inside my head. “The dogs, Ahi, can you hear them?”

She woke, startled. “Hurry, Manaaki. They’re coming.”

We scrambled out of our bush-clad hideout, dashing up the hillside, sliding in the damp earth, ponga fronds whipping our faces.

Frenzied yelps closed in on us. The creatures’ vicious snarling drowned our laboured breathing.

Blue eyes pursued us, hot gas flames in the dark.

Were they real?

I yanked my meds from my pocket. Pills scattered in the dirt. I scrabbled for them. One stuck in my throat before sliding down.

#

Cry havoc and let us unloose the dogs
the dogs, let slip those hellish brutes of war
for tonight Manaaki will have to choose
to run—

#

“Hellhounds,” Ahi yelled, bounding up the mud and crumbling rock.

Menacing growls raced through the underbrush. Ahi yanked a nail from her fingertip. It flared to light, illuminating the black-hackled beast leaping towards us.

“Ahi?” In all our time together, her fingernails had never exploded into fireballs. I stared at her and swallowed another pill, tasting dirt.

The hound, with pain-stricken yelps, was devoured by flame. Wild baying echoed in the valley below. More hellhounds.

Ahi stood, fingertip bleeding. Her hand, with only four nails, reached out. Warm blood sticky in my palm, she yanked me uphill.

Had my medication stopped working?

To be sure, I gulped another down.

#

Laugh in the shade of the slavering beast
let fire light his eyes and make death tame
the boy is mad—

#

 The hellhounds thundered behind us. Racing through the darkness, we tripped, smashing our knees on jutting rocks.

I gagged on the stench of the hounds’ hot breath. They snapped at our heels—and bit deep. I screamed.

Ahi ripped off another nail, flinging it over her shoulder. The beast yelped and fled, trailing flames.

Fingers spraying glistening blood in the flame-light, Ahi aimed nail after nail at the perilous beasts, until only two nails remained.

#

The boy is mad to thwart this hunter’s feast
the dirt he tastes will never bear his name
and yet he stops and turns—

#

Ahi flung her penultimate nail through snarling fangs.

The beast combusted. Singed fur and burning flesh. A pale demon loomed behind the hellhound’s flaming carcass. Worse than hellhounds. Worse than my lover-turned-stranger beside me, oozing blood from her torn fingertips. Worse than hallucinations.

I screamed.

Ahi smiled through her blood and tears. She tore the final fingernail from her hand and pressed it into mine. “Swallow this,” she whispered.

#

Cry havoc and let us unloose the dogs
the dogs, let slip those hellish brutes of war
for tonight Manaaki will have to choose
to run through fire and flame or face the maw

Laugh in the shade of the slavering beast
Let fire light his eyes and make death tame
The boy is mad to thwart this hunter’s feast
The dirt he tastes will never bear his name

And yet he stops and turns, his wild fear tame
Ahi Kā, Manaaki keep the home fires burning
In blood and fire—with life he stakes his claim
Ahi Kā, let us stand where he is standing

Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds;
But burn those who chase Manaaki out of bounds

~

 …for a coffee?/Cups

by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

…for a coffee?

i look at mine while
you breathe the steamy
aromatic air arising

there is writing there, yet i
don’t find words in
steam, or breath, but drink

that hastens ideas
and thoughts stuttering
till they slide too fast

to grasp, but i hold on
to taste coffee in
company. yours. filled

hot, words slip by in
the throbbed perfection
of our caffeinated

cup running over my
mind sliding by your
words high and our hearts

fast – i cannot read
around the curve
of space-time – my

horizon nearer
than your smooth cup
and syncopated heart.

Cups

Two white
espresso cups
on the sill, rimmed yellow,
sprouting pinprickle cacti. Lips
touching.

One fine
bone china cup,
freckled with buttercups,
stippled with lipstick and coffee,
coastered.

Second
cup floored, whorled with
inky thumbprints. Crown Lynn,
second-grade, glaze spackled. Coffee-
wet mat.

I kneel.
Hold a bowl of
lemon juice and dish soap.
Pour and blot. Blot and stop. Pick up
the cup.

Place my thumbprint
over his.

~

Second Placed Entries

In the forest, by the stream/Shade

by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

In the forest, by the stream

My gaze touches you standing beside the pool
and you are standing next to the pool in place
and your gaze is stroking space somewhere near where i think i am
and you are next to the pool and beyond anything to compare
and my gaze has consumed your gaze painting me in your world
and i am now beside the pool leaning into the space
where my gaze touched you standing by the pool.

Shade

Times like this, places like here, she feels like she is eating gravity; her belly expanding to hold the heavy silence. She is anklet-deep in still, peat-stained water. A listless bridge crosses the reedy creek to her right. Kahikatea infiltrate the water on all other sides – the pool is losing its edges like her. She comes here, and places like here, to defy the orgiastic pull of the city. A solitary penance of sorts, she supposes, although she apostatised long ago.

Her mother, loving her, grieves.

On the far side of the pool a sliver of dusk whittles itself from a trunk and takes on human shape – hard-edged and robust. The pool’s surface ripples like tea-dyed silk for a moment. She feels examined, laid bare. Sweat crawls down her back.

She had touched him; rejoiced in him; tumbled into lust. Only her imagination – surely she has not fallen…

She stumbles backwards out of the pool. The shape blurs into shadow and withdraws. Shivering, she puts on her sandals. Scum clings to the fine links of her anklet, but she leaves it be.

A friend will recommend toothpaste, and the silver will be resurrected.

She pauses on the top of the bridge and turns to look back over the reeds. There are ripples where she was standing, still.

~

A Ghost at My Shoulder

by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

 

the universe undressed keeps no secrets
but this morning’s egg was careless
in her mystery. I am tongue-tied before
his sartorial delinquence, those colours confuse.

I can’t take seriously a tie patterned mustard
and lime in the style of gestural abstraction,
or the wearer, who has dealt ten
Rorschach blots before me.

three blots, a trinity, perhaps not holy. there was a time
when seven was not a good number and thirteen
was more fingers than any man had to count
upon. so many changes don’t count, and i,

 He dissects my clotted secrets
with a blunt blade.

i can’t escape my mind, coagulated by time.
an absinthe vanGogh slices birch
skeletons thin across the winter sky,
as foliage the sullen crows.

His left hand curves like a beak around his notes,
pen clenched between maxilla and mandible;
I recall a sketch, is it Escher?
Memories are like blots of ink,

the nuns have tattooed guilt into my pores.
my left hand trembles before i write.

none are on the table between us. I ask
has he ever seen the chain-smoking orangutan,
on YouTube; how she draws in her cheeks
around each inhalation; how she

i writhe where the words
lie beyond my overreached
dreams and memory.

holds two fingers to her moody mouth to ask
for more; and does he believe in doom?
Tell me more about doom, he replies. I look
to the window for an answer. It is silent, smoky;

the sevenfold randomness
of the ordered rainbow dissects this world
where the sun leans on sullen air. my
monochrome scratchings leave it unexplained.

.

I close my eyes. I have been gilled
by the gods, I reply, damned
to drown in air. I can hear the muffle
of sirens singing and I am suffocated

 that bright canary of memory
is dying in the shafts, the windowless dark.
above, the out-of-reach flavoured world,
whose colours but for smoke i would taste again,

by the song of man. He tells me to open
my eyes. There is an ocean, he says,
turning in his chair. I look past
his shoulder, and through the window

after losing my burned letters
from the edge of the alphabet
to the is-land where there are
faces in the water, talking across
the wind worried, sun shy

sea.

Dedicated to the 37 or 39 women who died in the fire at Seacliff Mental Hospital, 1942.

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