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5th December 2019

Poetry Object 2019 Judge and Prizewinners Reflect on the Competition

By Emma Rose Smith

Image of Poetry Object 2019 Judge and Prizewinners Reflect on the Competition

Poetry Object 2019 winners were announced Thursday 28 November! The first place winners read their poems alongside competition judge Emilie Zoey Baker during a live-stream video event at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. Congratulations to all poets!

Read the full list of winners >>

Prizewinning poets' reflections and the stories behind the poems are below.



Emilie Zoey Baker, Poetry Object 2019 judge

‘It was an honor to read the shortlisted poetry entries for the 2019 Red Room Poetry Object competition. There were some truly exciting new voices that I’m thrilled to highlight. I approached the submissions as a poet, teacher, student and punter. I didn’t want to solely focus on what was technically outstanding, or what followed a perfect structure, but rather I asked if the poem invited me in. Was it interesting? Did it make me think or feel anything? I wanted to be moved, challenged, delighted and excited by the words on the page. I also looked for entries that presented a freshness of expression, rather than relying on cliché or forced rhyme. I looked for poets that had a vision they wanted to share, and had found a way to draw the reader in.’



Taiyeon, year 5, Greenacre Public School (NSW)

First place (Primary) for ‘A Piece of Wood’

‘When I wrote this poem I thought people didn’t care about things small such as rubbers, sharpeners, forks, spoons and other small things that help life and brighten the way of millions. This made me think of a pencil I was writing with. The reason why I chose this special object was for people to appreciate the things they have and the way they can communicate and write what they are saying.

‘When I found that I won first place, I was dumbfounded and shocked. From the thousands of people, I thought I didn’t even have a chance to get in the shortlist. It also made me exuberant. I took all my effort into it and tried to make my poem as best as possible with no mistakes. But to me, I think a pencil was very unique and special and I wanted to prove that we wouldn’t be able to use these utensils in the future as technology would be more widespread.’



Lucia, year 9, SCEGGS Darlinghurst (NSW)

First place (Secondary) for ‘Broken Umbrella’

'I tend to be a very active person and find that I get quite despondent if I don’t have something practical to do: something with a sense of purpose. When I looked at a broken umbrella hanging in our hallway, I imagined the sense of existential grief I would feel at not being able to go out in the rain to do the job I was made for: the sense of terminal failure. I also imagined the creeping dread of knowing that inevitably one day my failing would be exposed to the world.
‘Red Room Poetry Object is terrific because it encourages young people to write about the powerful resonances we can find within ordinary objects; and it’s such a pleasure to read what others have chosen to write about. Hopefully, the competition will encourage more young people to read and write poetry – instilling a life-long love of creative writing.’



Peter Ramm, teacher, Cedars Christian College (NSW)

First place (teacher) for ‘Moon Song’

‘A lot of my poetry features my family and as a new father, much of the time, my boys wander into my poems – as children often have a habit of doing. This particular poem touches on a vivid memory of a moment with my two-year-old. He was enamoured with musical instruments in this time of his life and on this night his harmonica, which is central object of the poem. We were going inside for story-time when he was struck by the beauty of the moon – it was bright, new and hanging right above our house. He wanted to know if the moon was going to sleep soon and thought we should sing her a song. For me, it was a moment of pure innocence and joy in the wonder of a child’s mind. One of those times you forget about everything else as a parent and want to just soak up each second. At its core the poem is about the love of a father and a wonderous moment.
‘Red Room Poetry Object reignited a love of language and writing which laid dormant in my teaching career since I’d left high school. In 2016, when I first stumbled on the competition, I thought it was a great opportunity to share the writing activity with the students. Rather than just setting the writing activity for the students and watching them complete it or guiding them through, it was a rewarding experience to work through the process with them and share the journey of composing a poem. The students had a lot of fun that first year and so did I. Since then, I’ve continued writing and dived into my love of poetry. It’s a passion that feeds my creativity, but also pays back into my teaching.’



Sienna, year 5, Burke Ward Primary School (NSW)

Rex Prize (primary) for ‘My Special Top’

‘This t-shirt was given to me by Dianna, my next-door neighbour, as a gift. Not long afterwards she found out that she had breast cancer and sadly she died just after Christmas. This shirt reminds me of how strong she was and helps me feel strong when things are difficult. I feel glad that I knew her and when I had to choose an object that was special to me I thought of my shirt straight away.’


Lylah, year 8, The Scots School Albury (NSW)

Rex Prize (secondary) for ‘For the moment, just lights’

‘My interest in writing developed upon returning to Australia after three years overseas, and my poetry is influenced by this spacious country and impossible blue sky – anything but hazy, urban Singapore. I have always been fascinated by the moon’s visibility during daytime, and it made me notice the constancy and enormity of space, even when we forget it’s there. Telescopes help us comprehend this realisation: the wrong lens putting into perspective our tininess, and the other bringing us closer, like magnifying workings of numberless, galactical clockwork. The mysteriousness of space only makes a person’s speculations about it more real. Poetry allows me to voice my thoughts and feelings about inanimate objects that play both profound and insignificant roles in our lives.’



Ashton, year 5, Balmoral School (NZ)

Highly commended for ‘Shells’

'I always walk on sharp shells and rocks to get to my favourite surfing spot. I often look into the rock pools and see crabs, I wonder what they do at night? Once in Bali I was fascinated to see a man blowing through a massive shell using it as a horn. This is what inpired me to write my poem.’




Daniel, year 6, Farmborough Road Public School (NSW)

Highly commended for ‘Didgeridoo’

‘The reason I wrote about my didgeridoo is because it connects me to my culture and how much I love it when I play it. I think that long ago Aboriginal men would play it and they would listen.’




Spencer, year 6, Balmoral School (NZ)

People’s choice award for ‘Cold Air’

'The poem is based on my Pounamu, capturing the history of my ancestors, and representing their spirits which will stay together as one. Respecting the ones that have been lost and remembering happy memories that will always remain.'






Seana, year 8, St Joseph’s College (NSW)

Highly commended for ‘Species that Shatter’

‘Species that Shatter’ is a poem about two glass penguins that sit in my bathroom. One penguin is the only company that the other will receive. This completely contradicts the fact that penguins are meant to live together as a large colony, not isolated and completely alone as a pair. This loneliness adds to their fragility and is in dispute that they could ever battle against any storm in the state that they are now. This low number of penguins refers to the already small and still decreasing numbers of penguin populations and the endangerment of the species.
‘I compare a glass item falling and shattering with “...the falls of the glaciers that continue to shatter the species”; an allusion to climate change greatly affecting the species. The “tainted marine blue” is based on the pollution of the ocean. Though their hearts may surround it, the taint and poison may spread and end up affecting these penguins who so heartily embrace it. The one thing that the object does correctly in its imitation of the species is that in both of their bellies “there are but so very few fish”. A final reference to the situation that the penguins have found themselves in. Although the penguins may stand beautiful, elegant and seemingly unbreakable now, they can so easily be mishandled about and “shattered” to an irreversible state. For the glass penguin, this is shattered remains. For the species the glass object represents: extinction.’



Sunny, year 9, MacRobertson Girls’ High School (VIC)

Highly commended for ‘Tale of an Instrument’

‘It is amazing to be shortlisted, awarded and published. This poem has been crafted by not only myself but the people who have helped me edit and refine this piece. It has been a wonderful and challenging experience, which has been filled with love and sometimes even tears. ‘Queen of Instruments’ was the original title, however, this seemed narrowly lyrical, leading me to show only the good and majestic. Violins are often seen as just a beautiful instrument. However, there is also a not so ‘majestic’ side, which is reflected through my poem’s second stanza. This poem alludes to Aoide, who was one of the three muses in Greek mythology – the muse of voice and song. The sparse lines and line breaks were to add tension and drama that is also a specialty of a violin. 'Tale of an Instrument' is about my violin, my special object. The poem tells of not only the good but frustration and pain, as that is the whole 'tale'.’


Zhouyan, Year 9, Balwyn High School (VIC)

People's choice award for 'Headphones'

'I am greatly honoured to be shortlisted in Red Room Poetry Object. As an international student from China who speaks English as a second language, I felt really surprised when I saw my name on the shortlist for this project, in which most of the participants are native speakers of English. This is not only a huge achievement for me, but also an affirmation of my language learning ability.'



Jackson, year 10, New Town High School (TAS)

Highly commended for ‘Loved By Me’

‘Loved by Me’ is was written straight from the heart. It was based off a rock that was given to me by a close family friend, Darryl White (ex-AFL footballer). It originates from the Northern Territory, and has been hand painted with Aboriginal art; it expresses the friendship that we share together. He sent it to me for my birthday, four years ago. It is very special to me. I personally prefer writing poems that have a connection with me in some way. I feel that the Aboriginal culture really helped me relate to and write this poem with passion.
‘I had great fun writing this poem, I would have to say that it is the best piece that I have produced. It also inspired me to write other poems: ‘Lost’, which describes how Aboriginal Australians view Australia Day; and ‘Taken’, which talks about the stolen generation and how children of original Aboriginal Australians were taken from their families, and removed from their culture. These two are quite sad compared to the others, but if I didn’t draft and publish ‘Loved by Me’ they wouldn’t have been written. I would also like to take this time to thank Red Room Poetry for giving me this opportunity.’



Kathryn Shortland-Jones, teacher, Christmas Island District High School (WA)

Highly commended for ‘Dead Cold’

‘This sweet little bird was gifted to me at a wedding as a symbol of renewed hope found in a long-standing friendship between two old souls. The event was gorgeous: lit by afternoon sunlight at a vineyard where beautiful words of commitment to a life together were spoken, come what may. In writing my poem, however, I reimagined the start of a fictive wedding ceremony marred quickly by the trauma of separation – fear, conflict, resentment and loss – and the metal bird as a symbol of a change of heart and the cold reality of lost hope. The final stanza explores the bird's heavy presence in a wedding guest's home and invites the hypothetical question: what curious memories are guests left with when the groom doesn't turn up to his wedding and the bride has to deliver the news?’



Julie Suey, teacher, Farmborough Road Public School (NSW)

People’s choice award for ‘My Brother’

'My special object is a pair of tattoos that I have for my brother who died over a year ago after a battle with cancer. I have a tattoo of his initial and a feather to remind me of him and to remind me to stay strong for him and others around me. The tattoos reminds me to be resilient and positive like my brother was throughout his life.'