Shortlist year: 2017

Shortlist category: Poetry

Published by: Year of the Wasp

In 2012 poet and writer Joel Deane suffered a stroke. Suddenly he was a poet without language. The music and imagery of poetry, for so long the impetus of all his writing, would not come. Year of the Wasp charts Deane’s journey to rediscover his poetic voice.

From these deeply personal origins Deane’s third poetry collection rises to confront the realities of politics and culture, language and love in contemporary Australia. It is a journey of poetic transfiguration that produces a work of unrivalled power, emotional intensity, and insight.

About the author

Joel Deane

Joel Deane is the author of seven books, including The Norseman’s Song, Catch and Kill: the politics of power, and Magisterium, and has written speeches for Labor politicians such as Bill Shorten, Steve Bracks, and John Brumby. He has been a finalist for the Walkley Award and the Melbourne Prize for Literature, and been shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award.

Judges’ comments

Joel Deane’s Year of the Wasp was written after the poet, speechwriter and novelist suffered a stroke in 2012.

There is a visceral sense of the poet reengaging with the world through language and imagery that starts with his experience in hospital where his immediate physical surroundings become the locus for several of his poems: “the air-conditioning was far too cold” and “his life repeats on the portable TV power-drilled to the hospital ceiling”.

In the second section, “Eight Views of Nowhere”, the poems move outwards from the hospital bed to address injustice and inhumanity on a larger scale, employing Greek mythology with metaphorical intensity and a tightness of phrasing. The poet brings an otherworldliness into this dark world using words that echo liturgical prayer: “and so I pray to the digital celestials / to program me this day / my daily bread.”

There is no self pity here; rather Deane uses the occasion of his stroke to reflect on life more broadly with moral, political, literary and biblical allusions.

The wasp motif is used repeatedly as both an internal buzzing in the author’s head, a distortion of the reality around the poet, and ultimately a marker of transcendence. This is a poignant and powerful collection that confronts the reader with the impermanence and beauty of life and the restorative power of poetry.