A RISING poet from Brisbane’s bayside suburb of Wynnum has capped off a stellar year by placing third in the 2020 Australian Catholic University’s Prize for Poetry.
Damen O’Brien, 41, always dabbled in writing poetry, but six years ago made a new year’s resolution to focus on improving his practice.
Since then he has won a string of prestigious awards, including the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, and The Moth Poetry Prize, the world’s richest competition for an unpublished poem.
A former standout English student at Iona College, Mr O’Brien said he was encouraged by “a couple of very good teachers who really pushed poetry”.
Busy working as a contracts manager for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle company, and with a patient wife and two sons at Iona College, he said “poetry keeps me sane”.
Generosity was the theme of this year’s ACU Prize for Poetry, and Mr O’Brien said his poem Atlas Carried the World was inspired by listening to stories about people fighting bushfires on ABC Radio National.
“That was the genesis of the poem,” he said, describing his work a “a mix of fiction with a kernel of fact” casting the holy figure St Stanislav as a martyr in 18th century Bialystok, Poland.
“It is a story of someone who runs into a fire to save two children, and goes back in for their mother, but doesn’t come out again,” he said.
“And (the poem) goes on to consider those two children, who go on to have children of their own, and grandchildren.
“And so good deeds like that have huge ramifications down the path.
“They are essentially the saviour of thousands of people in the future.”
Mr O’Brien said he tried to inject religious philosophy into his poetry.
“It’s not overt, it’s a way of thinking about the world,” he said.
In judging this year’s ACU Prize for Poetry, Emeritus Professor Chris Wallace-Crabbe described Mr O’Brien’s poem as “a modern celebration of the Polish St Stanislav” and paying tribute to all martyrs.
“Stanislav’s sacrifice in the fire is seen as a sacrifice for us all “in the ordinary way these things have always been happening”, he said.
While receiving a $3000 cheque for Atlas Carried the World, Mr O’Brien recently collected more than $15,000 for winning the The Moth Poetry Prize, for his poem The Nave.
“Most poets don’t do it for the money, they all have day jobs and they do it because they love the art,” he said.
“But I’ve been lucky this year to make some cash out of the art as well.”
Mr O’Brien said Australian poetry was a rich and vibrant place right now.
“My poetry is lyrical, often cynical, sometimes political,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I love science and philosophy and you will see signs of both in my poems.”
He is working on a manuscript for his first book of poetry, expected for publication by Recent Work Press next year.
A video featuring Mr O’Brien reading his poem alongside the other ACU Prize for Poetry winners, Canberra-based poet Geoff Page (first), and Victorian Fiona Lynch (second), can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWHjTDCJ4Jo&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=ACUsocial