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…