Four decades after making her debut in Australia, Meredith Wattison has proven why she is one of the nation’s finest language practitioners by taking out the 2022 Australian Catholic University (ACU) Prize for Poetry.
The 59-year-old from the Macarthur Region of NSW has been awarded the $10,000 first prize for The Loose Wild Grace Of It, her response to the Prize’s theme of ‘Hope’.
The Loose Wild Grace Of It explores five experiences Wattison processed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the day she was told she would be a grandmother, and her “reaction to the shock of a friend’s suicide”.
In coming to terms with the unexpected loss, Wattison said she went through a process of re-evaluating life.
“Everything goes out from under you, and you sort of re-evaluate – what do I think, what do I feel?” Wattison said.
“What I found is that through writing this, and re-evaluating I did find hope, I found positive thoughts.”
Wattison dedicated her poem to “her ray of hope”, grandson Otis.
Despite a career spanning 40 years, seven books, and numerous awards, Wattison only penned three poems during the pandemic, including The Loose Wild Grace Of It.
She nearly gave up writing altogether, after reading all five volumes of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time during the Sydney lockdowns.
“Most writers don’t think they’ll ever write again after reading that, because it’s just so perfect,” Wattison said. “I was one of them. What I did write was really compressed. It was a whole different way of working and thinking. I think it was the isolation.”
Born in Bankstown in 1963, Wattison’s calling as a poet began early – writing since the age of 12, she was first published in Poetry Australia when she was 19 and won her first prize at the age of 25. She was winner of the Gwen Harwood Prize in 2017 and was shortlisted for the 2022 Blake Poetry Prize.
Poetry helped her make sense of the world.
“It’s taking everything on, that’s what poets do. And to read poetry is fulfilling.”
ACU Poetry Prize judge Professor Robert Carver described Wattison’s winning entry as “a complex, learned poem which is also playful, but it’s playing with some of the most painful things imaginable”.
“The Loose Wild Grace Of It is a beautifully dense, wonderfully rich poem, full of riffs of different kinds, yet ultimately it’s anchored in the ineffable,” Professor Carver said.
“The best poems are those that dare to articulate the ineffable.”
The ACU Prize for Poetry is sponsored by the Office of the Vice-President of ACU, carrying on the Catholic Church’s long tradition as a patron of the arts. It also continues the University’s legacy of supporting and encouraging both emerging and established artists.
ACU Vice-President Fr Anthony Casamento CSMA said the more than 500 entries to this year’s prize were a sign of a hope for culture and the arts.
“ACU is again delighted to be nurturing the talents of the poets in Australia in this unique prize.”
All 94 shortlisted poems are published in Hope, an anthology that can be purchased from www.acu.edu.au/prizeforpoetry
ACU Prize for Poetry winners
Meredith Wattison (Greater Sydney) for The Loose Wild Grace Of It
Second place $5,000
Kevin Smith (Sunshine Coast) for Roofer
Third place $3,000
Mark Tredinnick (Bowral) for Cubist Landscape
Highly Commended $1,000
Maurice Whelan (Sydney) for She Was Not Like Anyone
Loris Gooch (Sydney) for Come to dinner tonight
Vanessa Page (Gold Coast) for A Vigil
With thanks to the Australian Catholic University (ACU).