The parameters for this, the Inaugural Pamela Miller Memorial Prize, were 400 words in any genre about the power of the written word. Here are the entries. Vote at the bottom:
ENTRY 1: The Power Of The Written Word | 400 words
I sat there at my computer with my finger poised ready to press the send button. I could feel Angela’s eyes searing into my back.
” Ok,” I swivelled my chair around to face my friend’s judgemental glare. “Let’s have it. I can see you disapprove.”
” Look Sharon, I admire your dedication to the job. I just wonder have you really thought just how powerful the written word can be. I mean we’re talking about the Mayor’s career.”
“Angela he has been abusing his wife!”
“I just find it so hard to equate the man we all know as a wife beater. He seems so dedicated to her and he is so great with his son! He puts hours into coaching little league every week. This will surely bring his career to its knees and he has been so good for this town. It seems such a shame. What if Mayor McLaughlin is innocent?”
“I saw the bruises myself.”
“Don’t you find it interesting that this story coincides with Helen McLaughlin finding out about the Mayor’s relationship with Sally Stretton? His career is already in tatters, this will definitely seal his fate.”
“I know what you are saying Angela, but I believe Helen. I think she has been silent for a long time and the discovery of the extra marital relationship was the last straw. As a journalist I am dedicated to bringing the facts to the public no matter how uncomfortable it may be for some. Not to mention my moral obligation here. Domestic violence has been an issue people have been silent about for far too long now.”
“I agree with you there, I just hope this is a genuine case. Why hasn’t she reported it to the police?”
“She is on her way here now and we are going to the police together. I think like a lot of abuse victims she has been too afraid to go public before. Maybe because she is frightened people won’t believe her” I added drily, giving a pointed glare.
I swivelled back to my computer ready to press the send button.
“Alright, but I just hope you know what you are getting into here. He has some pretty powerful people around him”.
My finger wavered nervously.
I looked up to see Helen walk in with a fresh bruise on her face.
I quickly pressed send.
ENTRY 2: A Candle In The Darkness | 309 words
In 1981, in what was then Yugoslavia, a young theology and law student, Dobroslav Paraga circulated a petition seeking the release of political prisoners in that country.
For this he was arrested, sentenced to three years jail and himself imprisoned in the notorious Goli Otok, where he suffered torture, sleep deprivation and 271 days of solitary confinement. When he appealed, his sentence was extended to five years.
Far away on the other side of the world, Paraga’s arrest coincided with the formation of a local branch of Amnesty International in the Victorian town of Ballarat.
Members of the fledgling branch became aware of the young man’s plight. In the tradition of Amnesty, the newly formed regional group employed the power of the written word in defense of the prisoner of conscience they adopted.
They launched a campaign of letter-writing protests involving churches, trade unions and human rights activists. A constant flood of letters on Paraga’s behalf were written directly to the Superintendent of Goli Otok and to the Yugoslav Presidency.
Such was the dedication of this small but dynamic group that long before the days of Facebook and Twitter their protest went global and they were astonished to receive a letter from the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace confirming that even the Vatican had become involved.
The world spotlight was now on Goli Otok. Upon Paraga’s release, Amnesty Ballarat received recognition from the London International Secretariat for the snowball they had set in motion to secure his freedom.
They also received a letter from Paraga himself, in which he said:
‘Your constant care for me and the efforts you took to publicise my fate did not permit injustice to triumph. I pray God enables you to feel my gratitude.’
Paraga’s story is but one example of many triumphs Amnesty International achieves employing the power of the written word.
ENTRY 3: Dedication | 159 words
When discussing dedication
and subsequent perspiration
We meet many complications
Which I’ll discuss a little more
Do we vent our frustrations?
Do what’s best for our nation?
Or chase market penetration?
Honesty, or muffled roar?
Is this psych-emancipation?
Do I make it my vocation?
Breezes on an empty shore?
Do we indulge in exploration?
A cheeky re-interpretation?
The mirror crack’d? No nevermore!
A poetic exploration?
Full of stranger conjugations
Bizarre new word creations
Since we never can be sure
Does this warrant publication?
Or simply relegation,
A hard-drive humiliation
Left where it’s easy to ignore
Enough! I’ll make my presentation
And I’ll risk jeers for adulation
I’ll begin the conversation
And together we’ll explore
For all time our compiling
Endless lists of words beguiling
Causes shame, tears and smiling
For those long lost and gone
Please, forgive my complications
Know my tears and perspiration
This poem’s my dedication
and I thank you all for yours.
ENTRY 4: The Written Word | 394 words
At a time in my life when all seemed lost, I found a reason to live. War had left its deathly mark; families had fled, their homes destroyed. Our way of life had vanished, and I raged at its passing. Wandering down narrow streets I searched for traces of my past– old familiar places now in ruins. There amongst the rubble I came across a small abandoned library, full of torn and damaged books. One novel lay intact; its pages yellow, the edges torn. Dusting off the cover I started to read.
Here was a man who spoke of a life shattered by loss, who wrote of the pain of eternal grief, of a life torn apart by the cruelty of other people. His anger was my anger; his revenge my revenge, a cancer that ate at my heart. He too felt lost, as I had felt as I wandered through life looking for reasons, for understanding, for answers.
He began to write, to release the pain that so absorbed him, and sought peace as he told his tale in written words on bundles of paper. Page after page he wrote, the words bursting forth with a force all their own, until he was exhausted, and lay down his pen. In his writings he had reclaimed his life, and from the deep darkness of grief, found his soul again. The pages became a book– a testimony to the power of the written word– with a truth the world could understand.
As I read his story I witnessed his suffering; and his humanity– a man who fought his nemesis with words, with courage, as I desired to do. But I was full of doubts– how could I write of my life, and express the pain, the sadness and the loss of so much, for I was lost and uncertain.
Then, in the final words of the book, I began to understand:
‘To be creative we must follow a path of our own. When we are lost, we must find our own way home.’ (Sheldon Kopp 1992.)
In those words I found the will and determination to find my own path; to write my story in dedication to a man who dared to bare his soul; that others may write their stories, in their own way, in their own words.
And so I began to write.
ENTRY 5: Cod Liver Oil | 159 words
You will know her.
Dedication to a 1961 Mum.
Her baby is alone. Left safe enough will only cry and sleep, sleep and cry, and will be checked on by the Italians. –For her to earn her coin. –For her to feed this baby. Sunshine powdered milk, cod liver oil and Pentavite. She uses a washboard and mangle when the new era all abounds, arounds, surrounds. Shiny machines— Short skirts—
The water guides her lipidious oils out through her fingers and cells become dehydrate and crack. Her youth keeps up so it lathers things back. The sun glows on her cheeks and shoulders and sweat mystifies her labour. Early loneliness sinks her eyes back minutely and only God sees this. Her weighted brow will not get her through. The rose in the garden is so beautiful. Latent traits will only etch when her vulnerability is ripe.
He walks in with his coin.
With his bad temper.
He ruffles through her.
He does not see the rose.
He leaves her
She meets a man most kind, most kind, most kind, most kind.
ENTRY 6: The Mighty Mississippi | 397 words
From northern Minnesota, the Mississippi River flows southwards for nearly four thousand kilometres to the Mississippi river Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. It’s one of the world’s major river systems, the fourth largest in the world. I’ve never seen the Mississippi River. Nor have I taken a great interest in it. But skilful dedication to the written word by an American travel writer has left with me a formidable impression of this mighty artery and a fascination with its history, not earlier evoked by the words of others.
Jonathan Raban flies over the Mississippi. It’s in flood and he considers the flat farms of Minnesota as akin to a theological problem.
‘The farms are square, the fields are square, the houses are square; if you could pluck their roofs off from over people’s heads, you’d see families sitting at square tables in the dead centre of square rooms. Nature has been stripped, shaven, drilled, punished and repressed in this right-angled, right-thinking Lutheran country. It makes you ache for the sight of a rebellious curve or the irregular, dappled colour of a field where a careless farmer has allowed corn and soybeans to cohabit.’
But Raban can see that there are no careless farmers on this flight path. ‘The landscape is open to your inspection – as to God’s – as an enormous advertisement for the awful rectitude of the people. There are no funny goings-on down here, it says; we are plain upright folk, fit candidates for heaven.’
But then the river in flood has wrecked these images. ‘…a broad serpentine shadow that sprawls unconformably across the checkerboard. Deviously winding, riddled with black sloughs and green cigar-shaped islands, the Mississippi looks as if it had been put here to teach the god-fearing Midwest a lesson about stubborn and unregenerate nature. ‘
The stylistic outline of this orderly landscape, carelessly traversed by an indiscriminate river, also alludes to the river’s awesome status amongst those who live on it. It will be the river’s ‘muddy turmoil’ that will dictate the terms, not necessarily as the farmers want it to serve them.
‘You’d better respect the river, or he’ll do you in,’ growls the lockmaster.
Raban’s overview, followed by such remarkable imagery has left, in my mind’s eye, an indelible panorama of this bold and impudent river in all its glorious chaos. Such can be the power of the written word.
ENTRY 7: What Is It? | 189 words
It is intrinsic
It is in there
E very word
Black on white
Until in sight
Then alive like a magpie
And fed beef on a balcony
It is under my skin
Extruding onto leaf
To get under yours—
The paper barks!
You tattoo words on mental matter
Chemical etching on organic metal
Metal Mental Matter Matters!
On my mind
It works for me
For times now and later
For recall and reuse
But there is always mush
I must remove.
So I read you, as new, at my leisure.
More books than man
More bytes than man
All around man.
Words flow from man.
Spoken word is the immediate plot
And it bubbles and boils in our thinking pots.
On paper alone it has no heat
Written words are alone
And powerless without
So what is it?
A place to empty to
And to return to
A recycle bin
Or public tip
From which to scavenge.
ENTRY 8: Original Gatekeepers | 381 words
I have always been a vicarious and hungry reader. I recall the early days of going to primary school with my little bag of well-read library books. During morning recess the group of Grade 4s, would team up with a buddy and would head down to the school oval, lining up to visit the mobile library during the weekly visit browsing the shelves looking for more books to devour.
While I was keen on playing some random sports, I was always in the school or public library, finding new books, getting recommendations from the librarian and just reading anything I could get my hands on. I would often walk into the centre of town to visit two bookshops that I was a fan of. Each week I was either buying more books or ordering new authors. I had become good friends with the bookshop owners so they were ordering and putting books under the counter for me.
Getting into University for my Librarianship degree, I remember the Course Coordinator on the day of enrolment asking what my major degree of librarianship was going to be, what else but English Literature!?! I was in University studying to be a librarian and reading the classic books that are usually in the Top 100. Getting into University I was like a sponge to the written word and spent many hours in the library.
More than 20 years later, and I still continue my pursuit and love of the written word, and the power of data, information and knowledge.
Over the years it has been my own personal dedication to the written word and the power of information to pursue, research, catalogue and retrieve the written word. There is nothing quite like the thrill of the chase, and finding the hidden gem. The missing book, or the uncovered article completing the request for the customer.
While I am now buying books online, conducting research to find more books, reviewing for new topics. I am still in the public library finding books and discussing with the librarians new authors to read.
Librarians are the original gatekeepers of information and it was Samuel Johnson who originally said “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”
ENTRY 9: The Church’s Sign On Graham Street | 382 words
Mary’s sick again. She didn’t get up from bed yesterday morning when I left for work and when I returned she was still there. In the same silk camisole, the same glass of water still half empty on her bedside table. I made dinner, enough for both of us, but when she didn’t come to the table I didn’t go to get her.
When she’s well, it’s great. We whirl through the days in a cheeky waltz, mid week dishes with a squeeze on the bum and a little couples-friendly porn on Sunday nights. But the down times are getting more frequent and Mary can’t even keep her job anymore.
I can’t go home and see her lying there again. I can’t stomach the smell of the bedroom that would have that rank sweetness about it by now. They tell me that my dedication is admirable, but just because I’m not the one in bed, doesn’t mean that I’m not tired. There’s enough of my clothes at the beach house to get me by for a while and the commute to work won’t be easy, but it’s doable. The kids will be over at the house on Saturday so, Mary will be checked up on- If they don’t cancel again.
The traffic lights turn orange on Graham Street, out the front of the white stucco church with the orange roof tiles. I’m no Christian, not really, but whatever is written on the signboard out the front always has an effect on me. Today, a tall but stooped old man with a ring of white hair on his head like a halo, is tending to the sign. He has already used the letters to write ‘In His Love, You Will Find.’ An old woman in a wheelchair tries to pass him the remaining letters, but she fails and they fall to the ground. The old man bends his old bones to pick them up and the old woman reaches out a frail hand and touches him. Just touches him. In a fleeting moment their eyes meet and I know that they are all each other truly have in the world.
With his boney elbows out by his sides, the old man places the letters to the last word on the sign, ‘Strength.’
ENTRY 10: The Case | 400 words
“Hey You! Yes You, Baggage Handler, careful, show some respect. I’ll have you know that I am not your plain, ordinary suit case. I wouldn’t be seen dead stooping so low as to carry a person’s dirty clothes and personal belongings, never-Indeed!
What? How do I know?
I know what I am because I once heard my owner, the Judge, saying to a barrister. “Madame, unlike my present case, your case is not open and shut. Open and shut cases are very rare, very special indeed. Madam your present case is fraught with complications.”
So baggage handler, I am telling you, I am an Open and Shut Case.
I will also have you know I am a law abiding citizen. I am totally dedicated to the judge who affectionately calls me, his Brief case. I can only assume that he does this because he keeps a spare pair of his Briefs, somewhere in my lid compartment. He is getting very old and sometimes he needs spare undies. Well you do know what I mean.
Baggage handler! I demand that you immediately stop throwing me around. Please treat me with the respect that my position demands. Please! Be gentler with me. I will have you know that the judge and I mix with very important people. I also carry his important documents.
The Judge always keeps me close, especially when we travel, whether by aeroplane, bus or train. I never, ever, mix with this common rabble of suit cases. In fact this is the very first time I have not travelled first class, in the cabin, with the Judge. There must have been some mistake as I am closer to the judge than his wife is. I am at his side 24/7.
Of course I do understand that his honour does have other cases. He has a case for his Chamber clothes, another case that he sometimes calls a Sympathetic case, oh, I have also heard him say that he does not like a Hard case. He certainly hates the Slimy case.
I have never seen even one of the Judges so called Legal cases; in fact I have never seen any of his other cases at all. That is because I am generally closed shut and hence, kept in the dark.” In any case, I am very pleased to be what I am.
ENTRY 11: The Diary | 397 words
Shirley was distraught. Her mother’s anniversary had passed, unnoticed.
As Convenor of the Cricket and Football Club’s Centennial Celebration, a feature of the ‘Back to Minhamite’ weekend, Shirley had been focussed on its success. She was nonplussed how, whilst emulating her mother, she’d not thought of this amazing woman. Edith was her treasured mum; whose memory continually provided support and inspiration to Shirley.
Edith’s forty-two diaries were arranged chronologically. Shirley chose 1972. It was a re-used exercise book that started with a pledge to ‘make a few more entries than in last years’ and a resolution ‘to try to write regularly to Jean E., Jean B. and Jeanne K.’
Noting her habits of adapting what was available and committing her goals to paper brought the warm glow of connection to Shirley. She did this, also.
The diaries bore witness to Edith’s dedication to the family’s doings and events on the farm and in the community. They also reveal her passion for sport. Typically, entries were thus.
‘January 1, Turned Biddy and Lynne onto Clear Hill, kept Legs and her calf here. Tom (husband) fenced all afternoon. Shirl milked … all to Kennedy’s. Illig’s (Telephone Exchange owners since 1968) retired at five to eleven. Good night’;
‘January 2, Late start. Shirley and I to Evensong’; ‘February 3, Tom to Grounds Committee Meeting, home 4.30 for dinner (lunch)’; ‘March 4, Shirley left for Melbourne. Feeling lonely all day. Going to miss her terribly.’
These last words lit up the page for Shirley. Her mother had never been effusive with her feelings, but here, in the familiar handwriting were words straight from her heart. Made more remarkable when you considered how detached Edith could be.
A decade earlier, Edith had been hospitalised for the removal of a small lump from her breast.
‘July 7 Operation at 3.30. More than expected. Didn’t know much… I listened to some cricket (a radical masectomy rather than the planned lumpectomy. Ashes Test, Lords)’; ‘July 8 Feeling pretty good considering …(Visitor details) Listened to all the cricket.’
Edith’s written words reinforced her daughter’s memories and confirmed what she’d always known, though rarely heard. She was loved.
Shirley marvelled at her Mum and her words. They brought comfort; her Mum would understand her oversight. And they reminded her of a loving, selfless woman who lived a life dedicated to her family and her community.
ENTRY 12: Stringer | 393 words
Bloke down our way has had it rough, has had for most of his life I suspect, you see he has a disability. I don’t know if he was born like that or whether he acquired it later in life, no one likes to ask.
You always see him about and you feel sorry for him. He can’t do anything by himself. Poor bloke needs a helper to do everything, things that you and I take for granted. You see he’s a Marionette, made entirely of wood with strings and all.
What amazes everyone is that he always has a smile on his face! His cheeks are rosy red and his complexion has a lustre that is thought to be polyurethane based. I don’t know his real name, everybody calls him Stringer, and he doesn’t seem to mind.
Something happened to Stringer one night that changed us all forever, Stringer more so. Somehow he came to life and became a real man! (Something I feel I had not yet become myself.) No one knows exactly what happened but there he was all flesh and blood, no strings attached. I don’t know what treatment Stringer was receiving, if any, maybe he was relying on the power of the written word and was studying with dedication, some self help guru, who knows.
People in our street decided to hold a “Coming to life party” for him, I went along but I felt strange about it.
At the party everyone was happy for Stringer. I appeared happy too but I’m not sure how I felt inside. Look, Stringer had come to life and good on him, it’s just that I’ve been alive all my life and I still didn’t feel I had anything to celebrate. Life for me had been bloody hard work with only frustration, disappointment and exhaustion to show for it! So I celebrated with everyone else but my heart just wasn’t in it, the party lights were on but I wasn’t home.
Maybe I was resentful because I had never had the opportunity to rise triumphantly from being made of wood and then miraculously become fleshed out. Nor had I risen from the ashes of some real calamity to an exalted plain of happiness.
No, I had to live my life held back by the distinct disadvantage of being normal.
ENTRY 13: Song of Complaint | 386 words
Singing my song of woe and affliction. Singing my song of complaint. Broadcasting it to the skies. Gathering the birds to sing it with me. Flying on their backs across the world. Telling the people and the trees. Telling people who are interested, and people who aren’t. Telling all the different people. Not sure it will make any difference. Not sure at all. Going to do it anyway. Too long quiet with this load. Going to put the load down and sing out. Or maybe drop it on someone’s head from a great height. Tired of it. Tired of carrying it quietly.
Going to write a book about it.
Going to give it away for free on street corners.
Going to donate it to the library, make an audio book as well. Want to dedicate myself to the task. My dedication will be complete. People are going to listen to my book on long drives. People are going to hear my story on their way to the coast. Or driving to the doctor. Or picking up something for tea.
They will recognise themselves in my tale of woe.
They will say ‘yes, know what you mean’ in my song of complaint.
They will sing their own song. The world will be bathed in the sounds of sorrow. The music of affliction. The tuneless notes of grief.
We’re going to sing it out all over the world. We’re going to type it and publish it and read it. There will be public gatherings of singing and wailing. Our tears will form puddles beneath us. All together we say, this is too much. This is too hard. This is too long.
Everyone will know how we feel.
Everyone will join with their own song.
Then we’ll make choirs and print music and have concerts.
Then someone says, do you see that bird, that one you flew in on?
Do you hear that song of that bird?
And I say, yes I can it’s a song. Different. Got another sort of tune. What are the words to that one.
And the bird says, you can put down your music and books now. You can stop.
There’s another one, another song in the world.
Listen to this. This is a good one.
Learn to sing this beautiful song.
VOTE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE. POLL CLOSES NOV 17th.