Westerly is delighted to award the Patricia Hackett Prize for 2020 to Australian poet Grace Yee. Her prize-winning poem, ‘for the chinese merchants of melbourne’, appeared in our second print issue for 2020, Westerly 65.2.
Grace is a Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria (2019–2021) and was the recipient of the Peter Steele Poetry Award in 2020. Her poems have most recently appeared in The Spinoff, amberflora and Hainamana, and are forthcoming in Overland, Rabbit and A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices in Aotearoa New Zealand (Auckland University Press). Grace teaches in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.
Since 1965, Westerly has annually awarded the Patricia Hackett Prize to the strongest work published within the volumes of that year. The prize remembers the contributions of Patricia Hackett to theatre and poetry, and her family’s connection to the University of Western Australia. Grace joins a prestigious list of past recipients including Kim Scott, Marcella Polain, David Whish-Wilson, Donna Mazza, Siobhan Hodge, Timmah Ball, Caitlin Maling, David Carlin and Cassie Lynch. A feature written in remembrance of Miss Hackett was published in Westerly 10.1 in 1965. It is now available as a free download from our digital archive here.
Grace Yee has accepted the 2020 Patricia Hackett Prize with the following words:
‘It is such a wonderful surprise to be awarded the Patricia Hackett Prize—what an honour to join this long and stellar list of past recipients. I am delighted that a poem about the history of my ancestors in this country has been recognized in this way, and to learn that Patricia Hackett was “a poet at heart”.’
Congratulations Grace! Westerly thanks you for your outstanding poem.
for the chinese merchants of melbourne
circulate this amongst your friends critical of the local culture
at lambing flat. without a public right, british settler methods
of housekeeping have always been cheerful
endured insured in history symposia, where the dirt
and squalor of anti-chinese agitation is re-tweeted in 140 characters
or less alongside women’s rights,
car insurance, and most fervently, the lack of gluten-free options
in dining establishments. the chief mandarins from our country
are cooks, storekeepers and irrigation experts
who know that to enjoy good health in this hot climate of australian
national identity, (which does not exclude fish-curing germans, swedes
or danes) we must at all times
be congenial domestic servants, never loafing about, never liquored.
on arrival we must declare our offspring, our nest eggs, our avian
and submit repeatedly to the neurosurgeon’s interrogation: do your
synapses fire loyally? in little bourke street we
sober, assiduous, apt and docile.
throughout the commonwealth the music of harps does not obscure
their indefatigable legislations. what vigilance. every night they watch
us paddling upstream in junks,
picking up dead dogs for supper. in these dark waters we are stoic:
starving, stealing and vanishing our own sentences: yes sir, all light
sir (mister dead ghost man).
on saturdays the sycophants among us can be seen out cycling
on floating red gum floors and buying twopenny packets of opium
for sale in public offices.
sundays are spent in petting zoos [open season all year]. we are
(chortle) ducks, cooked in pots branded ALL-MEN-ARE-EQUAL
(can’t tell ’em apart, gladys)
amid the yellow-face lacerations we hear only ‘ni hao… maaate—
can’t you take a joke?’ the western market is glutted with the art
of printing, gunpowder, the mariner’s compass.*
* This poem includes phrases borrowed and derived from: L. Kong Meng, Cheok Hong
Cheong, Louis Ah Mouy (eds.), The Chinese Question in Australia, 1878–79. Melbourne:
FF Bailliere, 1879.