Overland magazine and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation are very pleased to announce that the winner of the 2011 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Writers is Joel Ephraims for his poem ‘Rock Candy’.
Overland poetry editor and judge of the award Peter Minter writes:
‘Rock Candy’ is propelled by a cinematographic kaleidoscope of desire, narrative, observation and event. The poem’s aesthetic and emotional architecture is hinted at in the image of the ‘snow globe’ that appears in the poem’s final section. Snow globes are water-filled, plastic souvenirs that display miniature dioramas amidst particles of ‘snow’, encapsulating a location or experience while detaching it from the world of the living. The procedure is both tender and brutal, as we want to hold and protect our precious lived moments, but the very holding of them requires separating them forever from the realm of the living (‘I hold my palms/against the crystal curve’). A snow globe is very much like a poem. In ‘Rock Candy’, Ephraims passes us a series of snow globes, bubbles of adolescent affection, adventure and angst, moments of hope and fragility. The bubbles are rolled, spun, thrown, popped and X-rayed, their dioramas shaken and scanned for something that might survive time’s endless wintery avalanche (‘I never want to be standing out in a rattled snow/looking in at you, you looking out at me …’). In the end they do survive, and are delicately remembered.
The two runners-up were Sam Langer for ‘Clouds fall like snow on the sky’s clear rocks’ and Patrick Jones for ‘Step by step’; these poems will be published in the next issue of Overland.
We spoke to Joel, who studies Creative Writing and English Literature at the University of Wollongong and has previously published poetry in Voiceworks, about his winning poem.
What led you to write ‘Rock Candy’?
‘Rock Candy’ is a product of reading a lot of poetry at the same time as writing a lot of poetry at the same time as breaking up with my girlfriend at the same time as hearing stories about mental illness at the same time as listening to the news.
Which poets are the biggest influences on your writing?
At the moment I’m studying the New York School of poets and the Beats who were writing around the same time in America. I’m also looking at the poets known as the 68ers who drew from both of those movements/schools to create a new Australian poetry. I’m reading some contemporary Australian poetry at the same time regularly checking out Overland and current anthologies. The biggest influences on me right now would have to be Frank O’ Hara, Charles Bukowski, Roberto Bolano, Michael Dransfield, John Forbes, and John Tranter.
Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to writing? What kind of process did you go through writing this poem?
My approach to writing so far has been pretty all over the place. I write down lines in pencil on books, or on whatever other innocent pieces of paper are around. I’m becoming more organised in my approach but I think a degree of messiness is a part of the creative process. I do most of my writing by pen, then move to my typewriter, and then to my computer. In this way I’m able to do lots of drafting and each medium seems to add something different. I wrote the last lines as a Facebook message to my ex girlfriend after having read O’Hara. Hanging around with enthusiastic writers who share poems and books is always a big help.
How long have you been writing poetry for? Do you prefer poetry to other forms of writing? And if so, why?
I’ve been writing poems for about two years, getting more and more involved and interested in the whole thing that is poetry. I’ve always read and enjoyed prose and the two forms of writing cross paths in many ways. Poetry appeals to me more because of its transparency and tangibility as compared to the slower building and slower forming medium of the novel or short story. Poetry is able to pack a lot of power into a very small space and deliver it very quickly. When you read even centuries old poetry you still get a sense of life and energy and real connection with something that is alive. I guess that’s one of the main things about poetry, how immediate and captivating it is.
You’ve said that you’re interested in using gaming language in your poetry. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I guess computer language has something in common with the broken down nature of poetry. It is language that is also condensed down and charged beyond the simple act of day-to-day communication. It’s very interesting to think where digital poetry will go in the future. At the moment I’m more interested in poetry for itself and coming to terms with what it does in its fresh and undiluted forms, and what other poets have done in the past. To write good digital poetry I guess you would need a high theoretical understanding of both computer language and poetry and a deep understanding of linguistics. Also digital poetry is focused on a language that is not meant for communication in the normal sense. It’s about how a computer operates, so on a basic level digital poetry is always going to be centred around computers and the relationship between people or society and computers. Right now I’m more focused on poetry itself, but I’d like to experiment with these other forms in the future. Technology is such a big part of our society and art that engages with technology is important.
What would you like readers to take away from your poem?
I would like readers to take away my enthusiasm for poetry, to maybe reflect about things for a bit, as well as a kind of understanding.
Here is Joel Ephraims reading ‘Rock Candy’: