Award-Winning Poet Tom McIlveen

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Local poet Tom McIlveen has received many awards over the past six years, and he’s topped all of his achievements off by winning the Australian Championships last year for best written poem … Followed closely by winning the Golden Damper performance award in Tamworth this year. Tom tells us more about the inspiration behind his literary creations …

Hi Tom. It’s been a few years since we spoke … What’s been keeping you occupied since then?

Apart from my day job (which I sadly have not been able to give up), I have been busily writing every spare minute I get, and of late, after a long respite, have begun to get back into my guitar playing, which seems to help whenever writer’s cramp sets in (which is often).

I am also a keen Toastmaster, which gives me a platform to write, create and then perform to an audience of creative like minded fellow members.

To top off an unusually busy year, I was recently appointed president of the ABPA (Australian Bush Poets’ Association). We have regular committee meetings by Skype, with a fully appointed committee and delegates representing each Australian state. Our aim is to coordinate competitions around Australia, and to foster and encourage fellow performers and writers to preserve our craft and keep alive our proud Australian heritage and culture. We have a website with an interactive forum for discussion and a library of all award winning poems in recent years by contemporary Australian poets (

You’ve been very successful with your poetry over the past 12 months, having won the Golden Damper Poetry Award for your original poem Eugene. What is this poem about, and why does it have special meaning for you?

I wrote the poem Eugene in dedication to my cousin, Private Lloyd Allen of Tamworth, who returned from the Vietnam War both physically and emotionally damaged. It tells the story of a father comforting his rehabilitating son, Eugene, who has just returned from war, only to be scorned and rejected by the homecoming crowds.

You had to read this poem on stage in front of a live audience and a panel of judges to win the award … How do you cope with the nerves ahead of a performance like this? Do you enjoy live readings?

Reading poetry in a performance competition is an absolute no-no! A poem must be performed on stage without notes. Performers are judged on voice variation, projection and enunciation, appropriate gestures and emotional audience appeal …

The Golden Damper Award is run each year in Tamworth during the Country Music Festival, and is considered to be the holy grail of Poetry Performance Awards around Australia. I got to perform on the big stage in front of a panel of four accredited judges and a large audience and won first place for performance of Eugene.

It truly was a buzz to perform at that level, and the adrenaline does lift you to another notch. We have a saying in Toastmasters … That we learn to keep the butterflies flying in formation. The more time you spend performing in front of an audience, the easier it gets, unless you are born with a natural aptitude for it (which I certainly wasn’t).

Do I enjoy it? Yes, absolutely! And winning at that level is certainly an added bonus, making the experience even more special. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to perform and share your own work with an appreciative audience. You get to breathe life into the characters that you have created and share the emotions that originally inspired you to write it.

What are some of the other awards you’ve won recently?

Other awards I have won recently include the Australian Championships, which were held in Victoria last year for the best written poem, entitled If God Only Knew. This competition was judged by three accredited written judges.

I have been very fortunate to have won about 36 national written competitions over the past six years, including the Bush Lantern twice, the Rolfe Boldrewood Literary awards twice, Federation of Australian Writers’ Boree Log four times, the Man from Snowy River Festival, The Banjo Paterson award, West Australian Boyup Brook twice and the Henry Lawson Literary and Poetry awards twice.

I was also greatly honoured to win a Golden Laureate award in Tamworth last year, as part of the Country Music awards, for the best published poem of the year, entitled The Ghost Of Long Tan.

What do you feel your crowning achievement as a poet has been in recent times?

My greatest crowning achievements in recent times would undoubtedly have to be winning the Australian Championships last year for best written poem … Followed closely by winning the Golden Damper performance award in Tamworth this year.

What continually inspires you to write poetry?

I am not sure where this crazy compulsion comes from that drives me to keep on writing. It truly is an obsession! I have always had an aptitude for writing and remember having my poems published in the school magazine. I also remember excitedly looking forward to English classes at school and enjoying all facets of English literature.

I believe that writers have a voice within them that needs to be heard and shared by form of the written word. Poetry is a great platform for this. A lifetime of experience, feelings and emotions can be condensed into one page of a poem, and expressed with words, in a similar way to that of musicians and songwriters expressing themselves in song, or the artist who does it with paint on canvas.

What poetry/speaking groups are you a member of currently?

As mentioned above, I am currently President of the national ABPA association of poets throughout Australia and closer to home, I am also president of our local group here calling ourselves “Port Macquarie Poets and Minstrels”. We meet every second Sunday at 1pm at the Senior Citizens Hall in Munster Street, Port Macquarie. Anybody is welcome to join us with a poem, a song or a story to share and can reach me for enquiries on 0417 251 287.

Where can people read/purchase your work?

My award winning poems, as well as many others by leading Australian contemporary poets, are available online at our website:

What’s next on your agenda?

I continue to write … write …  write … hoping to create and find inside of me, that one special masterpiece that every writer strives for (my pièce de résistance). I believe I have it there inside of me somewhere, and am determined to write it before I hang up my pen.

I am currently endeavouring to publish a book of my poems, together with anecdotes and photos to further enhance them and explain the source of inspiration for each one, so that the reader has a greater understanding and appreciation of the poem. I feel truly blessed and honoured as a poet, to have a voice and to be given a platform to share my words and feelings with others, and to be given the opportunity to leave something of myself behind for future generations to come.

Thanks Tom.
Interview by Jo Atkins.

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