holding patterns

Seeking Asylum Poetry Prize 2020
Download Guidelinesdownload entry form

Ballina Region for Refugees Poetry Prize 2020

in memory of Louise Griffiths – a past member of BR4R

Proudly supported by

SCU and Coolabah_s

Ballina Region for Refugees invites submissions to the 2020 Seeking Asylum Poetry Prize.

The prize celebrates the positive contributions refugees make to our communities and acknowledges the circumstances that forced them flee their homelands and request refuge in Australia.

This year’s competition theme is ‘holding patterns’. We welcome poems of up to 50 lines that consider the variety of roles holding patterns occupy in refugee and asylum seeker experiences.

Planes circle, unable to land. Queues stretch past the horizon. Waiting periods extend beyond memory. Names slide from one form to the next. A backlog of unanswered questions, a hallway that never ends, a compound that never closes. The holding pattern can be approached from a broad variety of perspectives, and contributors may consider the ways in which holding patterns signify delay, disruption and discouragement, bureaucratic complexity, the stasis of legal and financial processes, systematic and institutional structures that obstruct or delay action – but also holding onto, being folded into, patterns of family, friendship, community, and culture.

Cash prizes will be awarded to first, second, and third place winners.

The first-place prize is $300, the second-place prize is $150, and the third-place prize is $50.

NOTE:  First price now also includes a digital subscription to The Saturday Paper.

Winning entries will be published in Coolabah, an on-line journal as well as on the BR4R website and newsletter. We also hope to be able to offer paid publication in a special showcase to a limited number of entries from refugees or those seeking asylum to be selected at the journal’s discretion.

The competition opens at 9am on Sunday, 14 June and remains open until 11pm Sunday, 16 August, 2020 AEST. NOTE: Now extended to 31st August 2020

It is free of charge and open to anyone residing in Australia. Entries will be judged by a panel of three poets: Saba Vasefi, Ella Jeffery, and Samah Sabawi.

The Seeking Asylum Poetry Prize was established in 2019
in memory of
Louise Griffiths a past member of BR4R.

$500 total prize money



Our Judges

Saba Vasefi

Saba Vasefi 2020

Saba Vasefi is multi-award-winning writer, journalist, academic, poet and documentary filmmaker. She researches her doctorate of philosophy on exilic feminist cinema studies and teaches at Macquarie University. She writes for The Guardian on the rhetoric of displacement and reports on the narratives of refugees incarcerated in Australia’s detention regime. Her journalistic works have appeared on the BBC, SBS, BuzzFeed, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

Saba is a Discoursing Diaspora Editor for Verity La creative arts journal. She was twice a judge for the prestigious Sedigheh Dolatabadi Book Prize for the Best Book on Women’s Literature and Issues, as well as for the Ballina Region for Refugees (BR4R) Seeking Asylum Poetry Prize. New South Wales Parliament House recognised Saba’s success in directing the Diaspora Symposium–Social Justice Award, and commended her ongoing contribution to women’s rights and social justice.

Saba’s poems have appeared in a variety of journals including Wasafiri Magazine of International Contemporary Writing in the UK, Australian Poetry Journal, Transnational Literature, and Anthology Solid Air: Australian & New Zealand Spoken Word. She has been awarded the NSW Premier’s Multicultural Medal in Art and Culture; an Honorary Brave Rising Star Award for her courageous writing on the gendered impacts of seeking asylum; the Commonwealth Scholarship, and The National Council of Women Award for her academic research.


Samah Sabawi


Samah Sabawi is a Palastinian multi-award-winning playwright, author and poet, who believes art can be a ‘beautiful resistance’ against injustice, racism and oppression. Her plays include Cries from the Land (2003), Three Wishes (2008), Tales of a City by the Sea (2014) and Them (2019). Sabawi’s essays and op-eds have appeared in many international newspapers. She is a frequent guest and co-presenter on 774 ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine’s Conversation Hour, where she has appeared alongside Israeli writer Ari Shavit, BBC News New York and UN Correspondent Nick Bryant, actress Miriam Margolyes and others.

Sabawi is a policy advisor to the Palestinian policy network Al Shabaka, and a member of the board of directors of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations. She participated in various public forums on peace building, women in conflict areas, the Palastinian right of return, as well as various presentations for interfaith groups.

In 2016, Novum Publishing released I Remember My Name: Poetry by Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso. The anthology featured “deeply personal and deeply political expressions of three gifted Palestinian poets in exile”. The book received the Middle East Monitor’s 2016 Palestine Book Award.

Ella Jeffery

Ella Jeffery is an award-winning poet. She is a recipient of the 2019 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Award and her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Best Australian Poems, Meanjin and Griffith Review. She co-edits Stilts, a digital poetry journal, and holds a PhD from Queensland University of Technology, where she currently teaches creative writing. Dead Bolt is her first book, and won the Puncher & Wattmann Prize for a First Book of Poems in 2019. She lives in Brisbane.


2019 Seeking Asylum Poetry Prize



The winning poem was Lost and Found’ by Rebecca Sargent and is reproduced below.  It was also published in the journal ‘Social Alternatives’

We congratulate Rebecca on her poem and she received a $1,000 cash prize that was provided by an anonymous donor specifically for this competition.

We also announced 3 runners up ….

        ‘Flensed’ by Greg Molyneux (click to view)

        ‘Hope’ by Michele Poole (click to view)

        ‘Pirouette’ by Bridget Thomas (click to view)

Winner  2019

Lost and Found

by Rebecca Sargeant

A wedding dress in a pickle jar.
A baby’s cry in a crowded bar.
A birthday cake in a biscuit tin.
A little boy’s shoes on a tidal whim.
Did you learn to swim
……….on the outstretched hands
……………….of a motherland?

A toothbrush on a sailing ship.
A photo in a rubbish tip.
A lipstick shade in a harsher light.
A word that slipped during the night.
Does thunder crack
……….your bones into
……………….a jigsaw map?

Pallet strapping in a bird’s nest.
A broken heart in a treasure chest.
A deserted dessert in a desert.
A desert girt by sea.
Does the sun rise
……….in the east or west?
……………….Do you need some rest?

Rest and lay your weary head
……….on the pillow of words you thought were dead.
Rest and wipe your teary eyes
……….on the fabric of our human lives.
Rest and plant your broken dreams
……….in soils fertile of communal means.
Rest and spread your sacred wings
……….and fear not for what tomorrow brings. 


Runners Up 2019


by Greg Molyneux

A figure flickers between the urban streetlights
darting from one pool of shadow to the next.
Hair blacker than dried ink trails languidly
rejecting the silence; the audio shrapnel.
This is the long quiet between explosions
the time of stray bullets, the overdue attack, the ambush.
A measured breath quietens the quickening pulse
the murmur of suburban noise grounds her.
She remembers; I made it out alive,
even if life and living are different
and memories cut like knives.
The war zone is long past gone
but not the depth of her sorrow
like the lowest point of the ocean swell
sinking the boat which floated her
or the bearded sailor who saved her
and brought her to the Lucky Country.
She made it, but not her husband;
the teacher, volunteer, medic.
She made it, but not her son;
the boy who waved to soldiers.
She made it, but not her daughter;
the girl who bandaged her toys.
But she made it
in the Lucky Country.



by Michele Poole

The night falls without a sound, fearful am I,
evil haunts my mind like an ungodly force.
Planes, missiles, soldiers,
rubble, screams, rockets firing.
These are my dreams, erupting in the night.
Tragic ending of my generation destroyed,
swept away by madness, all hope is disappearing,
like a never-ending black hole.

Around, the dark memories gather,
mourning of my husband. My dread grows as the
angry hand of Heaven falls against my heart.
It mutilates me, and darkly my life’s blood drips
to the wicked earth that is my prison.
In my madness, I cry out, while Hell laughs cruelly.
I hear the screaming of kids, buried
underneath the rubble.

I see an electrolier, silently still, not moving.
My phone is my connection, to the living and the lost.
Freedom is an imagination, a place to hope,
something to dream and explore.
I am seeking Asylum.
A place where my children can laugh, play and
discover. A haven that they are not
afraid of death.

I dream when the torture in my mind, escapes
like an animal released from its cage.
My child asks, “can I take any toys?”
My son says, “we can learn English.”
I mourn within, leaving my mother.
“I’m too sick to travel,” she says.
The night falls in a heavy, suffocating
cloak, soulless are we.

The salvation for which I pine.
“It’s time to go,” I say to my relatives.
My passion for life throbs no more. How could
you tear us asunder?
I watch the crumbling buildings, the bombed
shopping centre, the playground with the
eerie spirits of time passed.
The decision to leave this forsaken place.

Memory of my husband having breakfast,
Then, with a click of a finger, disappears,
with a black hood on his head,
his helpless arms tied around his neck.
I still hear the screaming of my children.
He promises them a pony.
I feel the angels surround us, crying,
saving us from ourselves.

Hope is far yet, within reach.
I am seeking Asylum.



by Briget Thomas

She hears her grandfather in the patio
tuning the strings of the oud with delicate focus,
then, outstretching his fingers to form chords
across the wooden neckboard, their shapes
resembling patterns
in the dot-to-dot colouring-in books
she spends her afternoons on,
connecting lines toward the direction of each number:
felt-tip pen in hand, the gradual reveal
of a puzzle on its way to completion

For her grandfather, the oud
is an atlas.
Not just an instrument,
but a map to the resolution of chord progressions,
harmonic destinations
form his tonal homes.
Out in the garden, his granddaughter spins
in time with the music,
the dead eucalyptus leaves falling
in the dry heat of the air.

In a crowded bazaar
On the other side of the world,
a tan-lined tourist shakes a snowglobe
purchased from a souvenir stall.
The glittery snow behind the glass
falls like dried eucalyptus leaves
pirouetting down from the thirsty trees