In honour of Dorothy Porter, each year Meanjin awards a prize for the best poem to appear in our pages during the year. In 2012 the $1000 prize was awarded to Stuart Cooke for his marvelously precise poem, An Overcast Day in Another Part of the World.
The Prize was judged by Andrea Goldsmith and Kristin Henry, who said of the winning poem:
‘There is an easy-going yearning in this poem and a simmering tension common to the traveller/migrant/exile experience. We were drawn to the directness and authenticity of the poetic language, in particular, the way in which the poet reveals the minutiae and specificity of place, memory and identity.’
We also congratulate first runner up, Stephen Edgar for his poem The Angel of History, second runner up Siobhan Harvey for The gifted astronomer goes to school and third runner up Marian Waller, who sadly passed away this year before seeing her first published poem, Second Chance, in print.
Stuart kindly agreed to record his winning poem for us, along with a selection of new work.
An Overcast Day in Another Part of the World
Maybe it’s the natural
extension of migration.
—from ‘Marco Polo’ by Ali Alizadeh
Maybe it’s little more than physics,
maybe it’s trivial amid the myriad trajectories
of tiny particles, that I’ve left everything—almost
literally—to come back here: friends, new shoots
throughout the family, a promising job and with it,
for the first time in my life, plenty
of money. (Then there are the other, less tangible things
but perhaps the things I miss the most:
laps at Clovelly on warm afternoons; decent
Chinese food; the sport on TV …)
I’m no soccer fan. I appreciate some of its elegance
but otherwise it’s lost on me, as is much
of life here: I speak the language, enjoy the food,
I worship the activists and their poetry
and I live with the woman I love
but that web—I can’t think of a better word—
that web between things is missing.
You’ll know what I mean:
sometimes in the dusk of an overcast day
you can almost make it out, that thin membrane
holding the world together when the world
is on the verge of fading into itself.
It’s the thinnest sinew of light, the sticky,
nearly gaseous residue between familiar objects
and what we remember of them
that holds us together in spite of our miscellany.
On all but the brightest days here
I’m left floundering and swimming back into myself,
wondering why, how I got here, if I really am here,
wondering what set of neural linkages I’m missing
to have wandered willingly into this diorama
as it teeters precariously on the void.
There’s no space for solace in the fission of an image;
no clear path emerges after the first few clauses;
what I say is lost in the clutter of a world
that knows nothing of me. Time is compressed
into a thin wire and I speed along it,
waiting to burst into sound at the other end
where I can say these things to you—actually say them—
where I am free to talk to you of memory.
I don’t know who you are
but it’s the thought of you
that drives me—it’s this thought
towards which this poem travels.
I like to think that my being here’s but momentary
in the larger trajectory of my life.
I like to think, then, that something’s
taking care of me, and ensuring
that things will turn out okay in the end.
I like to think these things as much
as I like to think of saying them to you.
Jostling together and building in pressure
like a gas inside my head, pressing against
my skull with ballooning, molecular yearning
for articulation, what I would say leaks
through the cracks and dribbles down to the ends of nerves:
my fingers search for the words
that my mouth is unable to taste. I focus on the page
to avoid looking out the window
at the darkening world outside,
darker than anything I can point to—with these words
or with their stuttering lights.
© Stuart Cooke 2012