Woorilla strides on

Commended Melbourne poets Shoshana Rockman (far left) and Upwey resident Melanie Birtchnell (far right) for 2023, pictured with Alicia Sometimes, Maria Millers and Professor Kevin Brophy. Picture by: Paul Bianco

Literary love and passion for poetic prose still shine true from a poetic community shifting from a small town grassroots competition to a global stage, unfolding into a digital and online era.

Woorilla Poetry Prize held its 31st annual awards ceremony for 2023 as a hybrid event in person and online on Sunday 19 November, with celebration, spoken word, songs and music in abundance.

“The future of poetry is assured,” the founder of Woorilla Ms Maria Millers said in her opening address.

“The poetic genre is still most suited to our times,” she said.

The winners were announced in the afternoon ceremony at the Hills Hub and featured live entertainment from emerging independent hills musician Hannah Schmidli, 2023 Emerald Citizen of the Year Margie Gemmell and Victorian State 2022 slam poet champion Aloma Davis.

A NSW entrant Jenny Pollack won the prestigious Judith Rodriguez prize for her poem “Portrait inside a portrait”, the Lousie Rockne Youth section was claimed by Naomi Ling from Maryland USA with “Still Portrait of Dementia” and the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Section was won by Yogita Sharma from California, USA with “unravelling the unspoken”.

The judges Professor Kevin Brophy and writer and broadcaster Alicia Sometimes returned as judges from 2022 and read through hundreds of entries which came from all corners of the globe.

Alicia Sometimes judged for the youth division said the future of poetry is bright and the quality of submissions for the Louise Rockne Youth Section was outstanding.

“With just over 200 entries, my shortlist was considerably lengthy,” she said.

“There were many poems about family and attachments, identity and place, longing and forgiveness, loss and jubilation and how we navigate life in this heavy and perplexing time. The span of ages 12-18 is a big one.”

Professor Brophy said judging the entries was a difficult task and gave congratulations to the poets who gave it a go.

“It’s not easy or simple to write a good poem. But there are many many good poems in the world,” he said.

Commended entrant for the Judith Rodriguez prize Shoshanna Rockman from Elsternwick was able to attend the live event and read her poem “Forestry — and my father”.

Her father attended the ceremony as well and Ms Rockman’s poem took a look at her childhood spent outdoors in nature with him hiking and watching him train.

Upwey resident and first-time entrant Melanie Birtchnell also made the commended list with “The Futon Perspective” and Professor Brophy said he could not go past this poem and that “it stops you in your tracks”.

Ms Birtchnell read her poem to the live audience and said it was the first time she had entered and read in a competition.

Host for the afternoon, Anna Millers, said the Woorilla poetry prize has continued to grow and evolve with the times.

“We are evolving and growing in different ways. Our aim is to provide a dynamic platform for poets that showcase their art,” she said.

The small group of volunteers hope to expand the prize every year and Ms Anna Millers said that Woorilla also held their first online poetry exhibition in August of this year.

“It was absolutely fantastic and it was made possible by the entrants of the prize recording their poems on video for us to use in this platform,” she said.

“We aim to continue to grow and develop this by getting more poetry in a digitally read submissions format and we look to deliver another exhibition in March 2024,” she said.

Founder Maria Millers said that today’s poetry is just as impactful, and meaningful and continue continues to serve as a dynamic form of expression.

“Poets are keen observers of their environment, society, and of all human foibles. So, poetry can be personal, lyrical, political, shedding light on injustice, inequality, and other social concerns, but it can also celebrate the joy of being alive,” she said.

The live stream is from the ceremony is still available via the Woorilla page on Facebook and anyone interested in poetry and literature is encouraged to contact the volunteers to take part in the annual competition an a volunteer or entrant.