This month we celebrate Sarah Holland-Batt’s poetry collection The Jaguar, winner of the 2023 Stella Prize. The book opened a much-needed conversation about chronic illness, death, grief and creativity.

“This is a book that cuts through to the core of what it means to descend into frailty, old age, and death. It unflinchingly observes the complex emotions of caring for loved ones, contending with our own mortality and above all — continuing to live,” said Alice Pung, the 2023 Stella Prize Chair of Judges, of The Jaguar.

With moving fearlessness, Holland-Batt reflects in her poems about the lack of language we have for death and dying and, through her use of language (and silences), she tells us what considering the end of life in our daily lives looks like and what it may mean. Geoff Page of the Sydney Morning Herald said this book is “an affecting meditation on mortality”. 

Holland-Batt has metioned that is this book she was “interested in contemplating the things that are difficult to look at: decline, death, violence, grief, sadness, ageing. Holding the gaze when the gaze is hard seems to me to be the essential task of the poet.”

Besides the 2023 Stella Prize, Holland-Batt also won for this collection of eulogies: the Queensland Premier’s Award for State Significance 2023, The Australian Book of the Year 2022, FALS Margaret and Colin Roderick Literary Award 2023, AJA/Wiley Book Award 2023. The book was also nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize 2023 (longlist), Prime Minister’s Literary Award 2023 (shortlist), the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize 2023 (shortlist) and the  ALS Gold Medal 2023 (longlist).

Of winning the Stella, Holland-Batt said: “It’s really surreal and incredibly exciting and a bit astonishing [to win].

“It feels very special to be recognised by an organisation that I think has done a lot for women writers, and a lot for Australian literature, to shift the culture.”

Watch her 2023 Stella Prize acceptance speech:

Among my female friends who are writers and artists, I don’t know a single one who hasn’t felt, at some point, the impossibility of fulfilling the duty to care while maintaining artist momentum and financial security. The idea that all three are simultaneously possible is the ultimate illusion women are expected to sustain.

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Sarah Holland-Batt in her 2023 Stella Prize acceptance speech

About the author

sarah holland-batt

 

Sarah Holland-Batt is the author of three books of poetry –The Jaguar (2022), The Hazards (2015) and Aria (2008) – and a book of essays on contemporary poetry, Fishing for Lightning (2021). Her honours include the 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, a Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship, and residencies at MacDowell and Yaddo in the United States. She is presently the Judy Harris Writer in Residence at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, and Professor of Creative Writing and Literary Studies at QUT.

About the Book

With electrifying boldness, Sarah Holland-Batt confronts what it means to be mortal in an astonishing and deeply humane portrait of a father’s Parkinson’s Disease, and a daughter forged by grief.

Opening and closing with startling elegies set in the charged moments before and after a death, and fearlessly probing the body’s animal endurance, appetites and metamorphoses, The Jaguar is marked by Holland-Batt’s lyric intensity and linguistic mastery, along with a stark new clarity of voice.

Here, Holland-Batt is at her most exacting and uncompromising: these ferociously intelligent, insistent poems refuse to look away, and challenge us to view ruthless witness as a form of love.

 

Judges Report

Tender memorable poems.

The Jaguar centres on a remarkable sequence about the death of the author’s father from Parkinson’s Disease: tender, memorable poems that capture grief and loss and love through unforgettable imagery, often blended with humour. Throughout the collection, Sarah Holland-Batt investigates the body as a site of both pleasure and frailty, writing equally effectively about sex, romance, and ageing.

Accessible, lyrical and wise, this is a book from a poet at the height of her powers.

Further Reading & Listening

Listen to Sarah Holland-Batt on ABC Radio National’s Big Weekend of Books

Read a profile of Sarah Holland-Batt in The Guardian

Hear Sarah discuss her work on the Poetry Says podcast

Listen to Sarah’s interview with Astrid Edwards on The Garret Podcast

Read a review of The Jaguar by Julieanne Lamond in The Conversation

Listen to Julia Gillard’s interview with Sarah Holland-Batt in A Podcast of One’s Own.

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