New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016 winner: ‘Leaving Wilona’ by John Stokes

Leaving Wilona

Here it was lost, that blood-quiet ground;
guilt and imaginary loves gripping
the shade trunks of bitter-vine
that joined one year to another
across the face of the old house
grown over with lies

The father grew, here, hollyhocks,
sweet peas, English stocks
nodding within sight of the Harbour Bridge
weeping in rows through old
Uncle Butler Airways’ field
to a green, quilted sea, where

each slap of each sly curve of
wave rots the gentle fish-wharf
and this harbour still smells
like a warm girl; the alien
grandfather, silver haired, still haunts
a German fig-treed sky

Fright and decay…
Decay is where the root
drew sustenance, here,
where the second mother bloomed
at The Gardens, where voices grew
Never go back
silent, more insistent

and even then you would know
unwisely, that you should not
come here again: that you might find
nothing under a memory
or feel your blood creak
like that old door
or see your own face pass through a gateway,
blank, unwarned
full of schemes for the new growth
clicking between illusion
and its memory; comforts
living in those small eternities

between a word and its soft-mouthed
speaking in the New World…

Brush past, alone, into
the raw ground…

Say nothing.

-John Stokes

‘Leaving Wilnoa’ is from the flower-drum sequence


John Stokes

John Stokes is renowned internationally for his passionate campaign for plain-speaking in literature. He has won or been short-listed for many prizes and long-listed for both the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s and Montreal International Poetry Prizes in 2014 and 2015, respectively. His third book, Fire in the Afternoon was published in the Poets and Perspectives series by Halstead Press in 2014 and won the ATC Writing and Publishing Awards 2015 for best poetry book of the year.


N.B. The judges of the New Shoots Poetry Prizes were unaware that ‘Leaving Wilona’ by John Karl Stokes was previously published in ‘Fire in the Afternoon’ (Halstead Press, 2014) at the time of the selection and announcement.

‘Leaving Wilona’: Zalehah Turner interviews, John Karl Stokes, winner of the New Shoots Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney Poetry Prize 2016


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About Zalehah Turner

Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based poet, photographer, cultural journalist, and Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review (RSR). Zalehah regularly contributes articles and interviews on poetry, art, film, and new media for RSR and the UTS magazine, Vertigo. Zalehah’s poetry was projected onto the Federation Square Wall in Melbourne as part of the Overload Poetry Festivals, 2008 and 2009; exhibited at Mark and Remark ,107 Projects, Redfern in 2013; and displayed in Alice Springs and Moruya thanks to Australian Poetry Café poets, Laurie May and Janette Dadd respectively. Her poems have been published in Writing Laboratory (2013), Sotto (2013), Social Alternatives (2016), Vertigo (2016, 2017), UTS’s The Empathy Poems Project (2017) and Rochford Street Review (2017). She co-judged the New Shoots Poetry Prizes 2016 alongside, Tamryn Bennett, Artistic Director of The Red Room Company, and published the winning and highly commended poems. Zalehah is currently working on an intermedia poetry collection entitled, 'Critical condition', focused on the interstitial threshold between life and death in medical crises based on personal experience. Zalehah holds a BA in Communication with a major in writing and cultural studies from the University of Technology, Sydney where she continues to pursue pushing the boundaries of multimedia poetry in Honours (Communication- Creative Writing).