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Ephemeral Waters

2014 - Shortlisted


Judges' comments

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.