The Day After the Michael Marks Award

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So it is the day after the night before – and I’m back in Barrow again after my fifth trip away in just over a month.  Yesterday was the Michael Marks Awards – I bought a dress- which as my friends will testify, is very unusual for me – I don’t normally do dresses – I feel very self-conscious in them,  so I just avoid them normally.  But I figured I might never be shortlisted for the Michael Marks again so I should make an effort.  So there was that – and then I couldn’t face getting changed in the loos at Euston so I decided to just wear the dratted dress down there.

I had the most wonderful train journey from Barrow to London.  I didn’t meet anybody I knew – which sounds very miserable, but I really just wanted to read.  I didn’t, this time meet anybody that I struck up a conversation with – again, sometimes this can be nice but I wasn’t in the mood.  I normally sit at a table so I can spread my books out but instead I sat in a normal seat and it felt much more cave like and protected from the rest of the world.  I read some of the new Robert Wrigley collection, published by Bloodaxe.  I’m only a third of the way through but I’m really enjoying it – here is a quote from a Robert Wrigley poem called ‘Cigarettes’ which I wrote down in my notebook as one of those lines I wish I’d written…

‘The first woman who ever let me
touch her, a girl really, only seventeen,
kissed me so deeply I fell out of myself
and became her’

I think this image is so beautiful and it carries something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, about the people we meet and who we have intimacy with – how we carry them around with us – for better or worse.

And what about the beginning of this poem by Robert Wrigley, simply called ‘Parents’ which starts ‘Old two-hearted sadness, old blight/in the bones,’

Two-hearted sadness.   I think that is so moving.  Anyway, so I was loving my Robert Wrigley which made me write something – I’m currently getting sidetracked by a sequence I’m working on called ‘How I Abandoned My Body to His Keeping’ about a relationship – I would maybe describe the poems as being haunted by violence – because I don’t want to deal with the violence directly necessarily, but I want it to be always in the background.  Which makes the poems pretty dark.  So anyway, I wrote another poem to go into this sequence which gives me ten so far.  I don’t know how many it is going to be – I’m just going with it at the minute.

So after I’d written this poem I felt so, so happy.  Which is strange because this sequence, or the writing of it has been quite painful sometimes.  But I think this poem is good – it says something that needs to be said, and it says it, I think, in a way, that will make other people have a jolt of recognition.  Maybe.  Bearing in mind I haven’t looked at it again since yesterday, so it could all very easily fall apart.  But I felt really happy and excited.  In fact I met the husband off the train and the first thing I did in the cafe at the station was recite the poem to him – poor guy.

Anyway, then we went to the British Library.  There were nice waiters and waitresses carrying round silver trays with quail eggs on and cheese and olives and little sausages.  I met the ultra cool Neil Rollinson and lovely Chrissie Williams of the bear poem which featured here a couple of weeks ago.  I met Kim Lasky – the other Poetry Business poet shortlised who is a nice lady.  I met Ben Wilkinson – shortlisted as well from Tall Lighthouse.  I didn’t meet David Clarke before the event – but I had a nice chat with Alan Jenkins from the TLS who tutored on a residential I was on about four years ago – and who has been so encouraging and supportive of my work – and brutally honest as well when it was rubbish..it was great to see him again…and lovely editors Peter and Ann Sansom were there – and Fiona Sampson who had just come from the palace and Andrew Forster – so lots of people who I really like!

We had a really nice meal which I ate too much of, and was then worried about getting up on the stage – or being able to move at all.  Peter and Ann entertained my half of the table and were making everyone laugh throughout the meal.  I skipped pudding and had a cup of tea.  The publisher’s award was won by Flarestack Poets and then each poet read for five minutes from their pamphlet.

I was the most nervous I’ve been for a reading – I have no idea why – maybe because shorter sets I find harder – there is no time to build up a relationship with the audience I suppose and because there were lots of poets that I admire in the audience – luckily I didn’t see Daljit Nagra till after I had read…Lady Marks – who sponsors the award, came up and told me she ‘loves my british sense of humour’.  So how about that!

David Clarke won the pamphlet award so Flarestack did a double!  Now I get to the crux of my post – or what has prompted me to blog – which is a mix of the upset caused by the reception at Buckingham Palace put on by the Queen to celebrate British Poetry and my own feelings after I didn’t win.  I’ve been silently lurking in the background watching the uproar about which poets got invited and which didn’t with a morbid fascination that I can only liken to the feeling I get when I’m watching Jeremy Kyle.  I couldn’t really understand why anyone would care whether they got invited to the Palace or not.  If I had been invited I would have gone, although I have no feelings one way or the other about the Royals.

But after the award ceremony – I went through a gamut of unworthy feelings – disappointment, envy – and felt ashamed of feeling these things – after all, I was only one of six, and I don’t think my book was any better than anyone else’s – in fact, if I am brutally honest, my money would have been on Neil Rollinson’s compelling pamphlet ‘Talking to the Dead’ – I felt that his years and years of experience of writing really showed in the consistency of quality in his pamphlet – but anyway, I felt quite ashamed of myself for being disappointed and not just bloody grateful to be there, so then I understood a little of what the poet Todd Swift was maybe feeling about the palace invitation or lack thereof.

And then I woke up this morning, still in a strange mood – almost a bad mood but not quite and walked from Fiona Sampson’s flat, where I stayed with the husband through the streets of West London to the tube -about a mile I think at 5a.m in the morning and it was really quiet and cold and peaceful and I started to gradually feel like I was coming back to myself again, which is not bitter/disappointed at the success of others, but happy for them and taking inspiration from it.

I guess the difference is I recognised those feelings as transitory and knew I would come out of it.  By 7.30am, once I got on the train at Euston, I felt like myself.  I posted congratulations to David and Flarestack and I meant every word.  I’m looking forward to reading David’s pamphlet again and hopefully mugging him for a Sunday poem, so you can enjoy his work if you haven’t already.  I was warmed by the lovely messages that my friends posted on Facebook.  I remembered that feeling of happiness when I’d been writing on the way up and tried to capture it again on the way back.

So I guess what I’m saying in a very round about, long winded way, that prize ceremonies and champagne are quite cool, but they can lure you away from what is important, which is that moment of happiness when you are writing and it is going well.  And I think most poets I know, would admit to those ‘unworthy’ feelings at some point or another – I think it is up to us then as human beings to squash them and jump up and down on them and ignore them and whatever you do – don’t act on them – because ultimately, it is not about writing.  It is not about poetry.  Would I have discovered this if I had won?  Probably not, because I’d be too busy running round the house still celebrating…

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26 responses »

  1. Thanks Kim, for this wonderfully personal, honest and heartfelt post about the last 48 hours. I do admire your openness! And congratulations on being nominated for the award.

    • Thank you Paul. I wasn’t sure about this blog, and nearly took it down in fright, but am glad it is getting such a good response. Maitreyabandhu also writes well about this kind of subject – in a Poetry Review a while back he talked about it in terms of publishing..

  2. A brave and courageous post, Kim. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, eh, but I just know that your day will come … and we’ll all be cheering from the wings!

  3. Such a good post. The whole experience of being a shortlistee – ‘congratulations’ – and then becoming, at a very public moment, an also-ran – ‘oh but well done anyway, and I’m sure your time will come’ – involves a scary flurry of emotions. Pride, joy, keeping expectations in check but fantasising nevertheless; anticlimax, disappointment, sense of waste. Even though you know, you do know, at back, that prizes are not the point. Rollercoaster. I do like those prizes that offer compensation cheques to to all the shortlistees: something, at least, to spend at the bar. Emotions leak out that you may not be comfortable about owning up to: competitiveness, for one; a curious want to win, even though you know it’s not a race. But they are there, those emotions, so best to deal with them rather than deny them. Walking city streets at 5 a.m. seems like a good thing to do.

    • Hi Charles – yes – that moment when it is announced and you feel like everybody is watching your face – I have one of those awful faces that hides nothing!! My friends often tell me off because I am awful at hiding when I’m bored….and yes, I think the TS Eliots are good that way….everybody gets a £1000 don’t they?
      By the way, I’ve just bought two Nurske books and Dan O’Briens in the last month or so… I’ve loved all three – you are doing a cracking job, producing beautiful books – long may you continue! And thanks for commenting – it means a lot to me

  4. Vivid description – I feel like I was there! The best thing anyone said to me when I was shortlisted and didn’t win the George Orwell Prize was, ‘If you’re shortlisted, you’ve as good as won.’

    At the risk of sounding like a hopeless Pollyanna, I felt it a bit of an honour on Tuesday to be teaching my technique class, while 300 of my colleagues were at the Palace, and others were at the Michael Marks award, and still others were at the Stephen Spender prizes for translation – the work was going on everywhere! I think I just wore jeans… (Hope you’ve decided you like your dress.)

    • Hi – I think you are right to feel honoured to be teaching – and your students are very lucky to have a teacher who feels this way 🙂 To be honest, I still haven’t unpacked – what a sloven I am…so haven’t looked at the dress since Tuesday…

  5. Hi Kim, I’ve just read your very open and honest piece, I’m just going to remind you that you have a unique talent and it will be recognised! The short-listed pamphlets had quality written through them all and you you were right to commend them and the winner – it shows that the judges had an ‘inner ear’ for poetry of the highest order – and guess what – they also recognised that in you, as everyone who has posted above does, and everyone in our poetry group now does because I took your ‘Wolves’ in and did an effective sales pitch on everyone! Keep writing, keep being honest and use your amazing gift to write a two-hearted happiness piece WHEN you win recognition! Dave x

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  7. Kim, as a former short-listee myself, I related to this. I recall sitting in the Poetry Cafe on the morning of the prize ceremony, reading all my competitors work and thinking, ‘Well, I know who HAS won.’ I also had a rather strange sense of not actually wanting to win (I don’t know why but I had to keep telling myself the prize money would have been most welcome). It kept me in check. Though thinking I was not going to win added to the nerves somewhat; countered only by the post reading unaesthetic wine which flowed. Now it all feels a bit surreal, but a magnificent experience. And whilst knowing I had not won, I also got to award myself an imaginary second place. I’d still take that. Even now…

    • Hi Richard – thanks for the comment – one of the other shortlisted poets said to me that they had a strange sense of relief when they didn’t win…which year was it that you were shortlisted? It all still feels surreal to me, a couple of weeks later…

      • Um, I think it was 2010. Selima Hill won. I think part of the issue with me was I was very much a happy amateur, totally new to the ‘circuit’ (if there is such a thing) and so I felt like a bit of a fraud. It helped a lot that I genuinely thought Selima’s pamphlet was the best.

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  9. A great post, Kim. I’d like to mention another, related feeling, that I’ve had in the past around this sort of thing: a fear that there aren’t enough good things to go round and that I’m going to be left out. A bit like being last in the queue for dinner and finding that there isn’t any food left. Which DID happen to me once and I am obviously still not over it!

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