Bella Li

2018 Winner

Cover image of Argosy

Judges' comments

This astonishing collection of collage, photography and magnificent prose poetry takes readers through two distinct movements. The first, structured around the conceit of a week of days, incorporates warnings about environmental decay and problems of human connectedness: ‘I have loved you like the knife’. The second, addressing time and place, desire and loss, journeys and homes, extends the capacity of the prose poem — ‘the way a sequence resembles nothing but itself’ — expertly combining narrative and affect.

Argosy is characterised by, on the one hand, an oneiric vision and, on the other, a clear-eyed interrogation of the politics of coloniality, gender and normative aesthetics. It offers something transformative to Australian and Australasian poetic traditions while maintaining a sophisticated, sumptuous poeisis with conceptual depth. Sui generis, it nonetheless is firmly within the poetic tradition that dates back at least to Blake, while at the same time offering homage to the experimental artists of the early twentieth century.

The powerful and surprising impact of the book made Argosy a clear winner. Bella Li’s sophisticated handling of language, form, time and image offers a remarkable synthesis of European surrealism and an antipodean sensibility, via a Chinese–Australian history. This important contribution to Australian poetic imagination and traditions doubles as a Southern Hemisphere rewriting and re-imaging of world traditions. 

Updated on 17 August 2021