Dunedin poet Emma Neale is the 2020 recipient of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry, a prize given biennially in recognition of a distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry.
Emma Neale is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry. Her most recent novel, Billy Bird (2016) was short-listed for the Acorn Prize at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and long-listed for the Dublin International Literary Award. Her new book of poems is To the Occupant which was published in 2019 by Otago University Press. Emma is currently editor of the iconic Aotearoa literary journal, Landfall.
On receiving the award, Emma says: “I’m incredulous, happy and stunned in my tracks, as if someone has thrown a surprise party – the way friends did when I was nine, and they waited to jump out at me until I was standing near the host’s swimming pool. All the other nine-year-olds were hoping I’d fall into the water with shock. I didn’t. So here I am, dry, a bit disoriented and also delighted again, and remembering that Lauris Edmond was the first poet I ever heard give a public reading. When I was 16, I caught the bus alone to a Book Council lunchtime lecture during school holidays in Wellington, and went to hear her talk about her writing career. I have a feeling I’d sneaked out of the house to do it – as if my interest in poetry and my aspirations to write it were somehow going to get me into trouble, and my parents and friends shouldn’t know. I sat and listened on the edge of my seat, as the poems and the talk opened a portal that meant I could glimpse the green and shifting light of hidden things. The portal was still a long way off, but I was convinced that poetry and literature were going to carry me into an understanding of intimacy, identity, time, ethics, deeper metaphysical questions.
I still think of Lauris Edmond as a kind of poet laureate of family relationships; her work was immensely important to me as the work of a local woman poet I could not only read on the page but also hear in person. I am just sorry that I can’t thank her face to face for what her work has meant to me, and I’m enormously grateful to the Friends for reading my own poetry and giving me this generous award. I’ve pinched myself sore. I actually feel like leaping into a pool.”
Established in 2002, the Award is named after New Zealand writer Lauris Edmond who published many volumes of poetry, a novel, a number of plays and an autobiography. Her Selected Poems (1984) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.
The 2020 award was announced on 2 April the date of Lauris Edmond’s birthday. A ceremony and birthday celebration was due to take place at National Library of New Zealand in Wellington on 3 April to honour Emma, however due to COVID-19 the event is postponed and will take place in collaboration with Verb Wellington later in the year.
In the meantime, the Lauris Edmond Memorial Trust and Verb Wellington encourage everyone to eat cake and read three never-before-published Emma Neale poems online at verbwellington.nz