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NSW Premier’s Shortlist 2014 – Castagna, Middleton and Wright
We’re pleased to have three titles shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. You can read the judges’ comments below.
Ephemeral Waters, Kate Middleton
This long documentary poem tracks the Colorado River, a system in ecological crisis, in its entirety, as a geographical site and as a self-sustaining historical text. Ambitious and epic in scope – and reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’ ‘Paterson’, Eleni Sikelianos’ ‘The California Poem’, and of Laurie Duggan’s ‘The Ash Range’ – it is a comprehensive work of research, a record of the poet’s actual journeys along the river’s course, and an inspiring act of imagination.
Ephemeral Waters stimulates questions about the local versus the global, and what a poem of this scope would achieve if it were about the Murray River. This book encourages a reader to ask what the future would be like if such river systems collapsed entirely. In this way a poem set in the US speaks directly to Australian readers without didacticism. Kate Middleton manages to balance the emotive connection of people to land, and the contestation over land use, with a language that is empirical and occasionally minimal. Elsewhere the poetry is wonderfully eccentric in its cascading lineation. Its vocabulary is organic and analytic in its weaving of local American vernaculars, scientific nomenclature, and lyric phrasing. The book achieves a rich synthesis of the literary and mythological with the empirical matter-of-factness of the surveyor’s documents, observations and explorations of science and history, both natural and human. Kate Middleton’s very accomplished second book is a major tribute to an important river that so many depend upon.
The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna
The Incredible Here and Now might be a book about the demonised and the stereotyped, about powerlessness and the hidden injuries of class. It might be a book about protest masculinity and the senseless, foolish, sometimes dangerous things young men do to compensate for the experience of marginalization. It might be a book about death and grief, or a book about the excruciating and exhilarating awkwardness of first love. In fact, The Incredible Here and Now is about all these things.
In the summer he turns 15, Michael’s world threatens to implode when his “invincible” older brother dies. Grief-stricken, bored, aimless and confused, Michael seeks refuge in the streets, sites and people of his home, Western Sydney. It would have been easy to stray into melodrama or sentimentality, but The Incredible Here and Now pulls back just enough to allow Castagna to deliver a confident and well-controlled story. Elegantly crafted as a series of vignettes, Castagna’s writing is bold, compassionate and visceral. Her characters are real and flawed, and linger long after one has turned the final page – from the charming and exuberant Dom, to “the last man on earth” Shadi, to the tyrannical Mr Alloshi. But it is Western Sydney that perhaps leaves the most memorable impression on the reader. Vividly portrayed – “an everywhere-people kind of place” – Castagna humanises a place where “those who don’t know any better drive through the neighbourhood and lock their doors”. It is in the West where Michael ultimately finds hope, resilience and love, learning that “you can’t go back. There’s only moving forward”.
The Swan Book, Alexis Wright.
Set in the future in a post-climate-change apocalypse, The Swan Book is the story of a mute Aboriginal girl, Oblivion Ethyl(ene). Hauled from her burrow in the roots of a tree as a child, traumatised by rape, Oblivia is saved by the European émigré-crone, Bella Donna of the Champions. Driven from her own land by environmental catastrophe, Bella Donna fills Oblivia’s mind with epic legends of migratory swans, and soon the foetid swamp of their home begins to bristle with the arrival of thousands of black swans, drawn inexorably towards Oblivia. Then comes another emissary from distant lands: Warren Finch, soon to be Australia’s first Aboriginal president, come to claim Oblivia as his promised wife.
This wildly adventurous, operatic hallucination of a novel encompasses indigenous politics, climate change, European history, global migration, displacement and grief. It is a savage critique of contemporary government approaches to indigenous culture, achieved through its telescopic imagination, sly humour and soaring poetry. Sweeping through history, across continents and cultures – yet never losing touch with the grit of raw experience – The Swan Book is a work of thrilling ambition.
You can view the full list of shortlisted titles here.
As a special offer, you can purchase all three shortlisted titles for the amazing price $60, including postage in Australia.