Collection of poetic biographies wins the Biggs Family Prize
A collection of five poetic biographies of famous and lesser-known historical New Zealand women has been awarded the 2015 Biggs Family Prize for Poetry.
18 December 2015
Written by Nina Powles as part of her 2015 Master of Arts (MA) at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), the book-length folio, titled Luminescent, has been described by Wellington poet Jenny Bornholdt as “engaging and colourful and alive to all kinds of possibilities”.
Although she started writing poems less than two years ago, Nina is already the author of a chapbook, Girls of the Drift, published by Seraph Press in 2014, from which a poem was selected for the 2014 edition of Best New Zealand Poems.
Nina, who went straight onto the MA after completing an honours degree in English Literature and Chinese at Victoria, says the opportunity to study at Master’s level has been a significant boost for her writing.
“The MA programme gave me the tools and the confidence to call myself a ‘writer’ for the first time. More importantly, it gave me a community.
“It’s been an unbelievable privilege to take part in the masterclasses, the readings and above all, the workshops with my generous, talented, fiery co-writers. It’s no exaggeration to say that this year changed my life.
“As a young writer just beginning my career, winning the Biggs Prize and receiving this recognition is an incredible honour. It feels surreal, and so wonderful that the prize enables a poet’s work to be recognised alongside that of prose writers. I now have the courage to start thinking about what my next book will be.”
Supported by Wellingtonians Peter and Mary Biggs through the Victoria University Foundation, the $3,000 Biggs Prize is awarded annually to an outstanding poetry folio in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing programme at the IIML.
Luminescent is a collection that tells the stories—or moments from the lives—of women who made a great impression on the world while they were alive, or left their impress in subtler ways. Among its subjects are Katherine Mansfield, the astronomer Beatrice Tinsley and Betty Guard, whose teenage years were spent as a young wife on a whale station. The collection also imagines the life of the little-known chorus dancer Phyllis Porter, who died in a fire at St. James Theatre in 1923.
Cliff Fell, a Teaching Fellow at the IIML and co-convenor of this year’s Master’s programme, says he was impressed by Nina Powles’s engagement with language and her ability to summon up and make real imaginations of the past.
“Nina’s clearly a poet who is going places. She’s at an early stage in her career but had already made her mark before starting the MA, during which part of her focus has been on how emotional weather can be conveyed in experimental poetic form.”
Anna Jackson, a poet and lecturer at Victoria, has been working with Nina during 2015.
“These poems are centred around moments so full, so vivid, as to seem both beyond time, but also to embody time.
“Luminescent is a work that already reads like a finished collection, ambitious in scope, and very beautiful. It is the kind of work that gives rise to dreams that its readers will find haunting them, opening spaces inside them, for a long time to come.”
Previous Biggs Prize recipients include acclaimed poets Louise Wallace, Amy Brown and Joan Fleming.