Michelle Cahill_photo credit Nicola Bailey.jpeg

On ordinary days this disquiet enters, a strange, brutal light
as when the font of reason incrementally withers, and I am bare.
~ Michelle Cahill from 'Green Cape', Red Room Poetry Fellow 2020

Recognising the achievements and artistic goals of contemporary Australian poets

Now in its fourth year, the Red Room Poetry Fellowship was established to foster the poetic and professional development of an individual within the wider poetic community, encouraging poets to undertake an intensive period of creative development involving a range of commissions, residency, recordings and publication outcomes.

Michelle Cahill's statement

I am honoured and beyond thrilled to receive the Red Room Fellowship in 2020. It is a privilege to walk in the steps of Ali Cobby Eckermann, Candy Royalle and Jeanine Leane; and to be in the company of nine extraordinary Australian poets, whose work I admire. This comes as a lifeline to me, at a time when the freedom to think as a poet is challenged by external restrictions and the world we know and love is rapidly changing.

My project is a poetic mourning responding to the crisis of culture and country; to archival erasure, to habitat destruction. As a dreamer and a healer, I hope the poems and recordings may contribute to unsettling neo-colonialism and to climate activism. I wish to convey my respect and thanks to Aboriginal First Nation people of the Gadigal, Dhurga, Yuin, Wangan, Jagalingou, Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri clans, their descendants past and present, for their stories and their law; for allowing me to walk with them. I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to the judges for appreciating my project, to my family, and to Tamryn Bennett and Johanna Featherstone for their marvellous visionary work, which makes this possible.

~ Michelle Cahill, Red Room Poetry Fellow 2020

Judging notes

The Fellow

We’d like to congratulate Michelle Cahill on being the recipient of the Red Room Poetry Fellowship for 2020. Michelle’s project is to respond further to the Extinction Elegies theme. The new work will enhance and develop her already existing work ‘on grief, loss, colonial trauma and animal migrations.’ The work will also involve recording some of the poems with Radio 3CR.

The judges were extremely impressed with the deep engagement of this project on many levels. It will respond specifically to the loss of animal and plant life caused by the recent fires whose ferocity and extent are a direct result of ‘settler history, industry and climate policy.’ The judges felt that this application showed a depth of consideration and an understanding of the specific and broader issues of the theme of extinction. Michelle has stated: ‘The poems also need to be layered accounts that probe deeply into the history of land acquisition, habitat domination of Aboriginal country, Aboriginal environmental resistance to White settlement, and archival history that has labelled, classified, and placed non-human animals species in a hierarchic scale of reduced value’.

We feel that this project is poignant, relevant and timely and will be approached in a sensitive manner as it will be discussed with a First Nations writer. The application was exceptional for the way in which its themes and concerns were articulated and presented in depth and detail. We felt that support material was outstanding, demonstrating an already powerful response and engagement with the themes. We’d like to thank Red Room Poetry again for this wonderful initiative and opportunity and we wish Michelle all the very best with the Fellowship.

The Shortlist 

'The judges would like to congratulate the shortlisted poets for the Fellowship 2020 and Red Room Poetry for once again providing this opportunity for poets to expand their work and their audiences. We were delighted and impressed with the quality of many of the applications. The Fellowship attracted established poets along with developing and emerging poets, page poets and performance poets. The diversity of the applicants and applications attests to the current strength and vibrancy of poetry in this country, it is obvious that there is a great deal happening in the imaginations and aspirations of poets and we only wish that we could have supported more of the applications, but funding limits always mean that some worthwhile projects will miss out.

So many of the applicants’ passion for poetry and for furthering the reach of poetry in the community was intensely palpable and a joy to encounter. We were also impressed by the innovative and unexpected way in which many of the projects responded to an existing Red Room Poetry project, displaying original approaches to develop and further these already intriguing challenges.

Those applicants who addressed the selection criteria more specifically and with greater detail tended to score more highly than those who had not. We also looked strenuously at the quality of the support material as an indicator of the ability of the poet to produce excellent work. Some applicants had very strong projects, but their submitted poems indicated that their work needed more technical development for us to be confident of the quality of their proposed future work.

We would like to thank Red Room Poetry for the opportunity of judging this important Fellowship. It is always a privilege to be privy to what lies in poets’ imaginations and hearts.'

Judith BeveridgeNatalie Harkin and Nicholas Jose, Judges 2020