Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards

With the deadline of June 30 for entries into the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards fast approaching, poems are now dropping in thick and fast. Although the competition opened on March 1st, as I explained at a SCBWI gathering I spoke at last Saturday, human nature is such that we often leave things to the last minute. For the judges, Nette Hilton for Senior Categories and me for Junior Categories, this time of year is . . . . challenging.

Last year I read and judged 6235 poems written by 4-12 year olds over a 4 month period and wrote reports on around 60 of those.

Background of DMCK.

The Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards are celebrating their 31st anniversary this year, having grown into the largest and best known national poetry competition for school students. Run by a volunteer committee in Gunnedah, North West NSW (who are among the kindest and most dedicated committee members I’ve ever met), it aims to foster creative writing and a love of country among young Australians.

Dorothea Mackellar’s connection with Gunnedah came from visits to family properties, from her home in Sydney.

2015 So far

This years theme is The Open Door – students can choose to write on this if they wish and many have.

Other topics have been Gallipolli, war, family, pets, sport, feeling lost and alone.

Again, as last year, a lot of poems are beginning beautifully and dive-bombing by the end.

Some stand out for the not so right reasons – eg. the teacher has asked for a poem before students are permitted to go out for their morning break.

Plagiarism is an enormous issue every year so please, please make certain your entry is your own writing.

The way I deal with it.

I check for submissions daily – numbers vary enormously but every night before I go to sleep I read every submission – this of course sometimes means my chin is dropping on to the keyboard at midnight, but for me being disciplined is the way I keep on top of it.

It’s a thrill to imagine a child writing their poem on a cattle farm in outback Queensland or sitting with hundreds of other students in a big school in far-away Perth, or Hobart or Darwin.

I strongly believe that for students . . . and for anyone, writing poetry is a way of addressing our worries and concerns and dealing with them in a positive way. These awards aside, if a student writes a poem, he/she does not need to share it with anyone – committing those words to paper or screen is what I believe is important.

My first publications were poems in my school magazine, they are the poems of a child experimenting with words and rhyme and very similar to so many poems I’m reading every day.

I did one unit of poetry in my professional writing and editing diploma and reviews on my picture books often refer them as having a poetic quality. When I was writing The Dog on the Tuckerbox I referred to the poems of Banjo Patterson, Henry Lawson and Judith Wright to get a sense of place and time of the pioneers.

So, teachers and students, if you have a poem you would like to enter or if you are still planning on writing one, please do it now and please make sure I receive a poem you have written, re-written, edited and please check the finished piece with your teacher or parent. I’m looking for well-crafted poems that are the very best they can be. June 30 is the deadline.

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