Shortlist year: 2022

Shortlist category: Poetry

Published by: UWA Publishing

At the Bottom of It, Pain
Callie tries to give the fish a good death,
short and sharp, severing the brain stem.
Pithing – like the sound a cherry makes
when you extract the pip. Some things
are instinct like spitting out
what cracks, hard, against your teeth,
or how a fusilier in the net arches
its whole body like a rictus grin
when the fruit is sour.

'Fish Work' brings the great barrier reef into poetic focus, exploring not just the fish that occupy the reefs but that vast variety of life-forms – including human – that make the reef a uniquely diverse environment. Developed over three years of field-work, during which time the poet lived and worked alongside marine researchers, 'Fish Work' asks us to reconsider what it means to live with other beings, human and extra-than-human.

Blending the language of scientific research with the language of popular culture and her familiar conversational register, 'Fish Work' is unlike any other book of poetry available in Australia.

This collection represents the first dedicated poetic investigation into the Great Barrier Reef in a time a climate change, paying particular attention to the far northern Great Barrier Reef, specifically Lizard Island Research Station where the poet spent several months over several years undergoing fieldwork with the scientific researchers in residence.

About the author


Caitlin Maling

Caitlin Maling is a Western Australian poet with three previously published collections of poetry out through Fremantle Press. In 2019 she was awarded her doctorate in literature from University of Sydney. Her poetry and non-fiction has been published widely through Australia, the US and the UK. She is the previous recipient of the Marten Bequest in poetry and grants from the Australia Council and the Department of Culture and the Arts, Western Australia.

Judges’ comments

'Fishwork' by Caitlin Maling is simply a charmer of a work which makes it a singular book of poetry because it discloses the world of the Barrier Reef and all the fish that surround it and swim in it and give it the vibrant quality of a living and beautiful thing even as it is imperilled. This is a neat and highly skilled piece of poetry as documentary just as it is a lyrically articulated chronicle of attractive things and shifting things in the kaleidoscope of an exotic but pictorially precise representation of a world. It is a book that will command a large readership because it is flawlessly written and it has such an easy, beautifully phrased and lightly coloured sense of the lilt and colour of life. Typical of Maling's friendly and ironical lyricism is 'For Once There is Not a Sunset of Some Beauty' – note the paradoxical title of her poem. Maling is walking along the beach at twilight, preceded by two thick-knees (wading birds with spotted plumage who are especially active at dawn and dusk):

Some would call them pretty
as the dusk descends
but I say
what they are
is almost a
language of shadows.