Judge’s report by Carol Jenkins
Last year I went to the launch of Small Wonders, and while I had really liked the work on paper, I loved hearing it read aloud. It threw the spotlight on the language, the tight and immediate narrative pace and the very funny juggling and juxtaposing of words: The whole thing as sharp as Tics.
So, when Bron Mehan asked if I would judge the prose poem/microfiction competition, I was really pleased to get in first and start reading. Microfiction and prose poems might seem a bit of blow-in genre, but I think it’s really the classic conversational rave, a kind of two-sandwiches extra in the play-lunch, a souped up and distilled, honed short story, not an anecdote but an überdote, it’s getting these out of the pubs and barbies and onto paper, a kind of head high tackle of top oratory onto the page. You might notice from the paper today that the Man Booker prize judges have recently taken a cue from Bron and awarded that prize to a micro- fiction collection by Lydia Davies.
Now, on judging things, judging sounds a bit highhanded, so I like to think of what I was doing as classifying and sorting them on merit. In a previous life I had a job which involved developing criteria for the classification of hazardous substance, so the first thing I think about is criteria. I ranked for Grab, resonance, theme/power, craft, with an additional criteria for Bonus Points, chutzpah or the extra oomph that doesn’t fall into the other categories. Then, true nerd that I am, I assign scores for each and add it all up! Judging is usually too subjective and it is one of my fond delusions that one can aspire to be fair and rigorous and systematic about these things. The other thing about this method is it helps to stop you from getting sucked into the story and forgetting why you’re reading. The kind of OMG I was supposed to be judging this (oops, classifying based on merit) and not just slacking off reading and having a good laugh.
When I added it all up there really wasn’t a great deal of arithmetic between the pieces. There is a lot to like here, and as a collection there is a Luna Park Hall of Mirrors feel to it. It’s an urban, urbane, satiric, keithless (no Murdoch or Urban hegemony here), foodie, post apopo-lyptical, popularist, artie, punning, dark and murderous, with heritage incinerators, EPNS teaspoons, piss-taking shoe-footed Men of Stamina, ex-tram-ified dockland that goes via Belanglo, with Aunties, office-politics, outsourcing, flocking, code squares and transgenics. This small book, Stoned Crows & other Australian icons, has more plots turns than a packet of Twisties.
The winning story is Mark OFlynn’s Under the Maw of Luna Park, I penciled on the top, ‘Crazy Good’. This story has resonance, a lyric bravado, one-liners to kill for. It’s a madhouse trip of total sanity, and I would steal bits of it if it weren’t for All My Own Work software.