The second year of the Hawker Prize received a highly competitive slate of poems from all around the world, formally daring and thematically vital. Like the year before, all of our qualified entries were read blind by our panel of judges.
Sing Lit Station is proud to release our full list of winners of the 2019 Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry. Special interviews with the editors of the winning journals can be found here.
First Place, $1500
“The Spare Parts Cycle” by Margaret Devadason
Published by OF ZOOS (Issue 7.1, Rough Material)
Second Place, $700
“Mama Was Reciting from the Book of Revelation” by Jeffrey B. Javier
when tremors ripped the floorboards
and toppled the shelves full of saints.
Spoon still hanging in my mouth,
Papa spirited me out into the streets
and cried that the sky was bleeding.
The millennium was ending and stars
spelled our doom. A dead volcano
had erupted and dimmed the world.
Storms arrived and washed clean
the archipelago. Lahar was boiling
in my mouth. We called the names
of angels and recalled their faces.
Barefoot, we marched blinded,
our hair powdered in sacred debris:
the ceramic ash fall, consecrated
dust of fallen saints. In a chapel,
votive candles were lighted. Scents
and perfumes filled the air: match
sticks igniting, moth wings blazing,
magnesium burning. Children waited
among the rubble. How the houses
all lay in ruin and the sight pulverized
my father's heart. How I set his face
in my head, as solid as a stone,
that he may calcify like a statue,
as still and as silent as an effigy.
Light carved deep cracks on his face.
His shadow wavered on the walls.
How I sought to save the landscape
of my childhood, as Mama carried
and swayed me to sleep. How all
would be rebuilt and the memory
would fade like sand in my dream.
How I tried my best, lest, I forget.
Third Place, $300
“Among the ruins of the Observatory” by Gabrielle Leung
"Estos, alma, ¡ay dolor¡ que ves ahora
Campos de soledad, monton de escombros
Fueron un tiempo cupula famosa.”
On the day the Manila Observatory
was burned to the ground—I translate
the manuscript word by word inside
the archives—four Japanese soldiers came
to spray the floors with gasoline.
Outside, the sun is high in the sky.
The first astronomical dome in the country
curled into flames, the room that kept
the time shrinking into itself as though
undoing the hours into dust. There is only
one photo of the aftermath, and outside,
it looks as though still standing. Manila burning
in the background, I imagine. The photo
keeps me on the outside. It smells of dust,
and faintly, smoke. The photographer's shaking
hands as Father Selga stood inside the remains
of his Observatory, trying to piece together
the rubble that had once been instruments
for measuring the winds. Five days later,
the Americans dropped liberation-bombs
and finished the job. There is no inside to this
grief. The ruins brought to the ground, bodies
and glass: I cannot think of the noise. They must have
known they would leave eighty years of ash. I do not
know if Father Selga watched the stars that night,
if he saw clouds on the horizon, and prayed
for the rain to still. There are no monuments
for this. I was told once that Father Selga was
a beautiful writer, but I cannot read Spanish.
My dictionary has no word for séame.
“Lorca (6)” by Chris Huntington
I walked out of a plane from Singapore and found your old house where you left it in Granada. I wish you’d been home when I came. I walked for hours under the Spanish half-moon you left me like a broken silver knife in the sky. Your words, not mine. In Dona Rosita the Spinster, you called the Alhambra “the jasmine of sadness/ where the moonlight rests.” Federico, in Singapore, jasmine is the tea I drink. I arrived at the Alhambra before dawn and walked from one end to the other beneath the long wall on the hill, but every door was gated and locked. When the sun came up, the moon pulled my shoulders and kissed me, which made me want to cry. Is this how you felt when you looked up at the sun that last afternoon? Before the bullets opened your chest? I saw a movie set in Andalucia, but they ruined it, of course, by making it look like something out of a video game. Everything was about three times larger than real-life, whatever that is. The streets in the movie were full of dirty laundry and dust. I preferred your Andalusia, so full of loneliness and the smell of flowers. The horses in this movie galloped too fast, carriages bouncing all over the sky. So many chases, unlike my own experience, which is that when we say good-bye, that’s it. In the movie, the Moors and the Templars were at war and it wasn’t clear whose side God was on, which was the only part I found convincing. Federico, once when I was reading Harry Potter, the characters passed a witch who was covered by a veil from head to toe. You don’t know Harry Potter but I think you must have known some witches. I imagine a dark-eyed woman wearing nothing but a veil; she is a shadow beneath a shadow but I know her shoulders must be hot to the touch. I would like to lie with a gypsy in a fragrant cave above Granada, the smell of roses and sweet wine on her skin. I would rather do that than read. But perhaps I’m boring you, Federico; you never cared much for women. Later in the book, it turns out this witch was a man in disguise. Life! A witch beneath a veil, laughter in a dark cave, the sound of a horse galloping and the shadow of olive trees beneath the moon? Everything true is like a dream and can’t be improved upon with art. I’m sure you would agree. Though we keep trying, don’t we? Because there are so many nights without witches or caves and all we have is paper and the moon.
OUR 2019 PANEL OF JUDGES
Christine Chia is the author of The Law of Second Marriages and its sequel Separation: a history. She is also the co-editor of the groundbreaking poetry anthologies A Luxury We Cannot Afford, A Luxury We Must Afford and Lines, Spark, Code. Her work has appeared in Washington Square Review, Brooklyn Poets Anthology, Unfree Verse, The Arts House and the W!ld Rice play Another Country. (Photo credit: Jon Gresham)
Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is Associate Professor of literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines Mindanao in Davao City, recipient of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Literary Award, and former president of the Davao Writers Guild. Her books include Women Loving. Stories and a Play and the poetry chapbook Heartwood. She is currently a creative practice PhD candidate in RMIT University, Australia.
ko ko thett is a poet by choice and Burmese by chance. He serves as country editor for Myanmar at Poetry International and poetry editor at Mekong Review. He is a recipient of a PEN Translation Award and an Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa. His most recent poetry collections are The Burden of Being Burmese and “ေလယူေလသိမ္း [Accent]”. (Photo credit: Victor Shen)