Last weekend I was in Grasmere for the Dorothy Wordsworth Women’s Poetry Festival. I was taking part in a panel discussion, hosted by The Poetry Society www.poetrysociety.org.uk hosted by Judith Palmer on the subject of competitions and prizes. Also taking part were the poets Ann Gray and Vicki Feaver. It was an interesting discussion, and I think I managed to come across coherently enough apart from for one question. Judith asked me what I thought about the fact that more male poets are given prizes for collections, which obviously are not anonymous, compared with the National Poetry Competition, which has had a pretty even split of prize winners, and what I thought of the winners of the big prizes this year for collections. Obviously at this point my mind chose to go blank. I was quite suprised actually by the disparity in the figures, first of all.
Now I’ve had time to process this information, I’m starting to wonder. Does this mean male poets can sustain ‘greatness’ over a whole collection, whilst female poets struggle to do this for more than the one great, competition winning poem? I don’t think so. I think there is still a long way to go before things are equal.
But why didn’t this annoy me more, I wondered. And I realised afterwards, that I don’t really buy poetry on whether the book has won a prize. I buy poetry at readings, I buy it on recommendations from friends, I buy it from reading a review in a magazine that really sparks my interest. I’m an obsessive poetry book buyer – so whether the book has won a prize or not is slightly irrelevant to me.
However, I can see how people can get frustrated – obviously the book that wins the prize gets the oxygen of publicity.
Over the weekend, I bought Jane Hirshfields ‘Come, Thief’ by Bloodaxe which is one of my new favourite collections this year because I really enjoyed her reading. She was the discovery of the weekend for me. I had not read her poetry before and it absolutely blew me away.
I also bought Ann Gray’s ‘At the Gate’ an elegiac sequence of poetry, full of raw passion and loss. I read this cover to cover on the Saturday night, and again really enjoyed it.
I also took two advance orders for my pamphlet! My first advance orders – it is becoming more and more real every day.
While all this was going on, down in Leicester, my uncle was dying. My parents, his wife and daughter, and his brothers and sister kept a four day vigil at his bed over the weekend. My aunty (his wife) didn’t want any of his neices/nephews to see him in this last part of his life, and I’m mostly grateful for this. I can selfishly keep my memories of him intact. He died on Monday morning, surrounded by his close family. I’m currently writing a poem for him to read at the funeral, or I may be reading someone else’s poem – don’t know yet. Either way, the poem is made up of stories about him, and it has been lovely to remember him in this way. Rest in peace, Pete.