The Patricia Hackett Prize is awarded annually to the strongest work published within the volumes of the preceding year.
Westerly is thrilled to announce Shastra Deo as the winner of the 2022 Patricia Hackett Prize for her poem ‘Fishing at Caer a’Muirehen: for my brother’, which appeared in our second print issue for 2022, Westerly 67.2.
Shastra Deo was born in Fiji, raised in Melbourne and lives in Brisbane, Australia. Her first book, The Agonist (UQP, 2017), won the 2016 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the 2018 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal. Her second book, The Exclusion Zone, was recently released with University of Queensland Press (2023).
The Patricia Hackett Prize remembers the contributions of Patricia Hackett to theatre and poetry, and her family’s connection to the University of Western Australia. The Prize was first awarded in 1965, and Shastra joins a prestigious list of past recipients including Kim Scott, Grace Yee, Marcella Polain, David Whish-Wilson, Donna Mazza, Siobhan Hodge, Timmah Ball, Caitlin Maling, David Carlin, Cassie Lynch and Stephen Orr. A feature written in remembrance of Patricia Hackett was published in Westerly 10.1 in 1965. It is now available as a free download from our digital archive here.
In selecting the winner for 2022, the editors recognised the depth and nuance of the poem and the manner in which it resonates with significance beyond the simplicity of the embodied moment. It is delicate and powerful work.
Congratulations, Shastra! We’re grateful to you entrusting us with your outstanding work.
Image credit: Kate Lund.
Fishing at Caer a’Muirehen
for my brother
I forgot to say noon was closing around us. Further
up the mountain fog spills thick as curdled milk
but here the air is cool. Cedared. You are pulling your
shirt away from your skin, building breeze, fabric pinched in
your fingers. Your bucket heavier than ours combined.
The youngest of us, a bomb fisher, holds his tongue
in his teeth as he threads his hook. You don’t see.
You are watching for bears, perhaps, or calculating
the hours of light left by the weight of our three shadows.
Politely ignoring the sweat smell trapped in the soil
at the backs of our knees. The sweet smell of blood
crusted in your hairline, just behind your right ear. How
long had it been since someone saw you? You flinch,
reel in that writhing muscle, scale tinged pink as the
flush on your nose. I no longer need you to like me.
We can’t know it yet, but on the eve of our father’s
passing some years beyond the past, each one of us
will learn that only a brother, no matter his goodness,
sees you as god sees you. Only the youngest of us
would debate the difference between boys lost and stolen.
Sorry. I’m not telling it right. I was minding my line. I
am minding my line as our brother declaims the value of
controlled detonations, his voice louder and louder
on each outbreath, your laugh catching on the second of
softness in your belly. I know every lie you’ve told
about earthworms and perch. This is what the world, in these
centuries away from you, has taught me: no fisherman
can become a good man. No one of us will die
in our beds. When it comes I am begging you to
be what buries me.