Young Writers Competition





Whakarongo ki te reo o te kākā tarahae
Listen to the call of the poet’s voice! 

Entries are invited for a national creative writing competition inspired by the forthcoming production of OrphEus, a dance opera, to be performed at the New Zealand Festival in March 2018. This competition is open to poets and fiction writers aged between 16-25. We invite entrants to respond in some way to the myth of Orpheus.

Orpheus is best-known for his ability to charm with music and poetry, and for his journey to the underworld to save his wife Eurydice. Your writing might choose to relocate Orpheus to a contemporary setting; or it might focus on Eurydice or some other figure in the myth. It’s up to you how to play with the myth.

Michael Parmenter, who has created OrphEus, the dance opera, has said this about the work: “Orpheus speaks to the capacity within us all to be attuned to the song of the world. He is one of us, with our extraordinary possibilities, but also our frailty and vulnerabilities”.


Congratulations to our competition winner Claudia Jardine for her winning poem below:

Eurydice & The No
(or How Eurydice Died of Negligence and a Phonetic Misunderstanding)

Orph had charmed the rocks and stones.
The wood’s inhabitants came to cut shapes on the dancefloor
lately reclaimed from the ground below,
pressed neatly into place
like the frown on Eurydice’s
fierce little face

“No, stop it, no,” succinctly, “I’m recently married, so
get your hands off me.”
As if the mention of Orpheus would make this satyr desist.
He knew, as well as she did, that Orph was busy
building a song to keep the fairy-lights on.
Plus, he was feeling the vibe tonight,
and the cry of “another one please, Orph,”
couldn’t go unanswered, groomed as he was
for this exact capacity.

Eurydice, frustrated, wonders who invited the satyrs.
Didn’t she say to the planners “no rapists”?
Maybe her sanction had been overruled?
To not invite divines would seem quite rude.
At least with the gods, she might get a gift.
Instead, she’s stuck with this satyr prick.

Orpheus is playing what sounds like ‘Wonderwall’
with an augmented fourth chord.
Yet still, the naiads are frothing for him.
Eurydice is used to this sort of thing.
And so, she dances where his eyes can find her,
but her instep seems to encourage the satyr.

He grinds up behind her during a quiet number.
Orph frowns at the fretboard
and lifts one finger
to solo excruciatingly well
but completely miss Eury’s desperate looks.
A faun nearby stamps his hoof and says
to his friend, “Should we have a word?
He’s making us bipedal goat-men look bad- oh dear,
I think there’s a flute in his pocket-”
Eurydice hears.

She starts to run. The dancers notice.
More Orpheus for them (“let her go, man”).
She runs through the tables
and under the lights.
No-one wants to ask why, because
it might be about becoming a wife
and who wants to have that conversation?
Not this nymph, nor that one.
So, Eurydice runs, and
the satyr chases.

She thinks about Daphne
but she doesn’t much fancy forever as a tree.
Plus, Orpheus could still tell her what to do.
Best not go botanical or mineral.

Repugnant with rapaciousness
each tiny hairy leg throbs for the chase.
The flashing white of the soles of her feet
like the tail of a rabbit racing through the wheat.
The music from the wedding, now bride-less, grows faint.
Eurydice begins to cry and wail.
“Please gods, no no no, no no!”
And somewhere, Zeus, scratching his sack,
mishears the girl but shrugs and obliges.
Eurydice trips into a nest of vipers.

She’s dead before she knows she’s dead,
tumbling through the black onto a nice soft bed.
Persephone extends a silvery hand
and strokes her forehead softly,
“Tough night, little one? You are dead.”
Persy succeeds at appearing benign.
It’s not often Hades is graced by a bride.
The queen thought she had better make an effort,
these sorts of ghosts can be quite difficult.
But, to Persephone’s quiet surprise,
Eurydice smiles back immediately
and begins to cry with relief.

Something to know about the Grecian language,
and the fauna of the mainland.
The vipera ammodytes, meaning “diver of the sand”,
is a very venomous specimen called the horned viper,
or, if you were in a hospital in Greece,
having been bitten by a 70-ish centimetre snake
with a horn above its rostral scale,
you would say “οχιά!” as your tissues dissolve
which sounds a lot like όχι, the Greek word for “no”.

  • Competition Criteria

    The winner receives:

    • A double pass to the Writers & Readers Gala event at the 2018 New Zealand Festival
    • Individual writing session with award-winning author Damien Wilkins, Director of the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington
    • Flights to Wellington if required
    • A New Zealand Dance Company memento

    Competition Rules

    • Entries must relate in some way to the Orpheus myth
    • Entries can be either short stories or poems
    • Entries must be no longer than 1000 words and must be the original, unpublished work of the entrant
    • Entries can be submitted electronically or by hard copy
    • Handwritten entries will not be read
    • You can submit multiple entries
    • You must be between 16 – 25 years old to enter
    • If you are a student, please include the name of your school/tertiary study provider
    • Closing date is 31 January 2018


    Please email entries to: [email protected]

    or post to:

    Orpheus Writing Competition
    International Institute of Modern Letters
    PO Box 600
    Victoria University of Wellington