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The Hazards

2016 - Shortlisted

Shortlisted

Judges' comments

Sarah Holland-Batt’s formal imagination transports the reader fluently through mythological, personal, artistic, geographical and historical landscapes. Violence, caused by the pursuit of beauty or truth, is appraised with virtuosity and unfailing precision. In the opening poem ‘Medusa’ Holland-Batt gives us the striking image of the drifting mind, ‘pure and poisonous’, drawing in its shadow as the soul billows out. This dichotomy portends the poet’s almost surgical objectivity, her capacity for opening up subjects. Yet she animates these poems with the spirit of Perseus, courageously risking what is known for a language ‘with a force that could break our lives’. The Hazards offers us a humanistic and unreservedly cosmopolitan angle as it casts an instrumental gaze over the leitmotifs of nations, animals and clans, tracing back to the surprising origins of struggle in Irish lace, a backyard orchid hothouse stowing newsprint of the Vietnam war, an exotic bird of Central America anthropomorphised as a dictator, the entrepreneurial mutton-bird reckoned as an oil baroness, the fluid eel riding the Gulf Stream all the way to the Caribbean.

The natural world is not merely rendered in touristic or anthropological terms since the frame the poet deploys is itself broken, airborne and ‘picked clean by the wind’. The world is always on the point of movement, of shadow, uncertainty and mourning. Holland-Batt entwines the past into a rich and inventive lyricism of the present. Whether in an elegy to her father, her grandfather, her friends and lovers, or whether in poetic narratives which return us to Ingres’ Grande Odalisque, Goya’s Dog, or the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution or the terrible vestiges of death covered by Californian soil, these poems enact their dirges and their duende, in gorgeous, magnificent sweeps where language never reaches its meanings unscathed.