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The reports of the death of poetry have, once again, been greatly exaggerated. Poetry is alive and well in Australia, as demonstrated by the wide range of vibrant writing submitted to the Kenneth Slessor Prize 2020. It was very difficult for the judges to pick a shortlist of six books from the strong batch of submissions received, which ranged from lyric poetry, to language poetry, and to more experimental work. We would like to recognise the quality of writing from First Nations poets in particular, and note that there was a smaller range of Asian-Australian writing submitted compared with other years.
The judging panel
Jane McCredie is an award-winning journalist, writer and reviewer who has been widely published in Australia and internationally. A former book publisher, she is the CEO of Writing NSW and the founder and director of the Quantum Words Festival of writing about science. She is the author of Making Girls and Boys: Inside the science of sex and was coeditor of the 2013 anthology of The Best Australian Science Writing. Jane is a graduate of the Australia Council’s arts leaders program and has previously chaired both the Christina Stead and Douglas Stewart panels of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
Eileen Chong is a poet who was born in Singapore of Chinese descent. She is the author of eight books. Her work has shortlisted for several awards, including the Anne Elder Award, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, the NSW Premier’s Literary Award, and twice for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. She lives and works in Sydney, Australia.
Judy Johnson has published six full-length poetry collections. Her individual poems have won the Josephine Ulrick, Val Vallis and Bruce Dawe Prizes, amongst others. Her collections have taken out the Victorian Premier’s Award for poetry, the Wesley Michel Wright prize (twice) and have been shortlisted in the WA and NSW Premier’s awards. Her verse novel Jack, published by Picador, was on the syllabus at both Melbourne and Sydney University. She is one of four editors of a 25 year retrospective Contemporary Australian Poetry published by Puncher and Wattmann in 2016.
Peter Minter is a poet, poetry editor and writer on poetry and poetics. His books have included the award-winning Empty Texas and blue grass, and his poetry has been widely published and translated internationally, most recently in the volume In the Serious Light of Nothing (Chinese University Press Hong Kong, 2013). He was a founding editor of Cordite poetry magazine, co-edited the pioneering anthologies Calyx: 30 Contemporary Australian Poets and the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, and has been the poetry editor for Meanjin and Overland. He teaches English, Creative Writing and Indigenous Studies at the University of Sydney.
About the award
The Kenneth Slessor Prize ($30,000) is offered to a poet for a book of collected poems or for a single poem of substantial length published in book form. A collection of poems may consist partly of work previously published in book form, but this work must be clearly identified by the nominator. In such cases the judges will assess only the new work and determine whether it is sufficient, in quantity and quality, to merit an award. A collection of poems may be published in a book containing the work of up to four poets. The judges will exercise their discretion in determining whether the work of the nominated poet is sufficient to make it eligible for an award.
About Kenneth Slessor
The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry is named after poet and journalist Kenneth Adolf Slessor (1901-1971). Born at Orange, New South Wales, Slessor’s family moved to Sydney in 1903. He began writing poetry as a child, with his first publication, a dramatic monologue, appearing in The Bulletin in 1916. Only a year later, his poem ‘Jerusalem Set Free’ won the Victoria League Prize. Slessor began as a cadet journalist with The Sun and later became editor of Smith’s Weekly, 1935-40, during which period he wrote most of his poetry. He developed close friendships with Norman Lindsay, Hugh McCrae and Jack Lindsay. Slessor’s appointment as official war correspondent in World War Two took him to Greece, Syria, Egypt and later New Guinea, returning to Sydney in 1944 to work for The Sun. His reputation as poet grew as a result of his published collection One Hundred Poems, 1919-1939, which was reissued several times. In 1957 he moved to the Daily Telegraph where he stayed until his sudden death in 1971.