On November 23rd, visual artist and poet Matthew Hollett accepted the 2017 NLCU Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Authors for his collection Optic Nerve.

The award is administered by the The Literary Arts Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador (LAFNL) and the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador’s (WANL). It has been presented to a resident of the province for an unpublished manuscript, bi-annually, since it was founded in 2011, but Hollett’s acceptance marks the first time a collection of poetry has won the prestigious award.

As the 2017 winner, Hollett will receive a cash prize of $5,200 and $1,000 towards professional editing services for the winning manuscript, as well as a miniature replica of Man Nailed to a Fish by sculptor Jim Maunder.

“I think poetry gets over looked a lot, people often look for stories and poetry sometimes offers stories but it’s so often little meditations on things or miniature essays or musings on something, so it’s very special to be honoured in this way for poetry,” Hollett said.

Hollett describes Optic Nerve as a collection of approximately 40 poems about photography, colour, and the way we perceive the world. Some poems were written as responses to photographs, others are about entopic phenomena (meaning the things you see when your eyes are closed) and some are inspired by places in St. John’s.

“As photographer, I walk around and take pictures and write notes, it’s a process of gathering visuals. Those visuals and observations sometimes work as photos and sometimes they kind of stick in my mind and end up in poems,” Hollett said. “So my poetry is very visual and I tend to write in imagistic language.”

The poems in Optic Nerve use language that is both precise and surprising to conjure images like a spider’s web or ripples on the surface of Mundy Pond. Hollett manages to squash a whole lot of beauty into very concise lines and then he stirs some humour in. When he read at the Fresh Fish award ceremony in the Christina Parker Gallery, the audience kept interrupting with bursts of laughter that bounced off the concrete floor and all around the room.

In their statement about the collection, judges Bridget Canning, Trudy Morgan-Cole, and Paul Rowe wrote, “Optic Nerve — note the subtle double entendre of the title — is a finely wrought collection. The poems are at times gamesome, often insightful, and, occasionally, unabashedly romantic … This is a clever, vivacious, eminently readable collection.”

Hollett says will be seeking a publisher for Optic Nerve soon and with many awards and publications in national magazines already under his belt, it seems likely that the collection will soon be gracing the shelves of book stores all over the country.