Tag Archives: michael marks award

The Day After the Michael Marks Award


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…

Sunday Poem – Michael Scott


Afternoon everybody!  I am having a very lazy Sunday today hence the blog happening whilst there is still daylight.  And by lazy Sunday I have decided to get jobs done today that I can do using my laptop and sitting in my pyjamas on the sofa.

This week instead of the usual band rehearsal with Barrow Shipyard Junior Band on Monday nightwe had a joint rehearsal with the Barrow Steelworks Band to get ready for our concert together on the 23rd.  I think there were close to fifty brass instruments playing at the same time on Monday – we had to get extra chairs, put up extra stands – so it was slightly more chaotic than usual, if that can be believed.  All proceeds from the concert will be split between the National Autistic Society and the Junior Band – we have to build up our funds again after all of our exploits last year – extra workshops for the pupils, new music and instruments and recording our first CD. 

I had just about recovered from that on Tuesday morning and then I got a phonecall to say my pamphlet has been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award.  As far as I know this is the only major award for pamphlets so I am ridiculously excited and happy to be on the shortlist.  This excess of emotion resulted in a couple of star jumps whilst teaching the year 3 class of baritones, trumpets and cornets, but strangely enough the children didn’t really notice.  This made me wonder whether they are so used to me jumping about/doing silly dances – maybe star jumps are just normal?

The rest of the shortlist consists of Kim Lasky, ‘Petrol, Cyan, Electric’ published by Smith/Doorstop, David Clarke:  Gaud  (Flarestack Press), Ben Parker: The Escape Artists  (tall-lighthouse), Neil Rollinson:  Talking Dead (Aussteiger Publications) and Chrissy Williams:  Flying into the Bear (Happenstance)

I already had Kim Lasky’s pamphlet and Neil Rollinson’s and I decided to order the other pamphlets as well so I could do my reading before I meet all the poets at the Award ceremony on the 19th November.

There is a publisher’s award as well and the shortlisted publishers are Flarestack Poets, Mariscat Press, Pighog Press, Rack Press and Shearsman Books.  If you want to find out more information about the awards you can go to https://wordsworth.org.uk/poetrypamphlets/mmpamphlet.html

So there was that rather exciting news which means I get to swan off to London on the 19th.  Luckily I have plenty to distract myself between now and the 19th November so that I am not obsessing about it – in between I have the band concert and readings in Torbay, London, Kendal, Carlisle and Aldeburgh to keep me busy!

On Wednesday I had my performance management meeting with my manager which went ok with the welcome news that as a part-time member of staff I only need to have two objectives to work at over the next year instead of the three that a full time member of staff has. 

On Thursday I spent my day off reading poetry – and doing a little bit of writing, and Friday I headed over to Dove Cottage to do the first ‘Real Live Writer’ workshops with a sixth form group.  The workshop is a combination of opportunities for students to write taking inspiration from Wordsworth and Dove Cottage and a chance for them to learn about the history of the Cottage through a tour and through the Wordsworth museum.  This was the first workshop and we had some lovely feedback from the staff who came with the pupils but I already have a couple of ideas to make it slicker and better – a necessary part of running workshops (and teaching) is evaluating what worked and what to improve – so this is going to be an exciting learning curve for me as well as the students who come along to the workshop!  There is more information about the range of workshops the Wordsworth Trust provide here: https://wordsworth.org.uk/learn/educational-visits.html

Yesterday I got the famous 6.20am train from Barrow to Sheffield to go to a writing day as part of the Writing School programme organised by my lovely publishers Smith/Doorstop.  I must admit when my alarm went off at 5.15 I did question my sanity, but once I got onto the train with lovely poet Jennifer Copley who is also part of the writing school I’d woken up and cheered up.  It was a fantastic day yesterday and I think I got a couple of poems out of the workshop which I am very happy about as I’ve been writing very slowly recently.

I got home at 9.30 ish to find an accceptance slip from the TLS – two poems ‘The Fall’ and ‘After Work’ so I did a bit of a dance and a few more star jumps in celebration.  So I’ve had a great poetry week today – everyone has been very kind and pleased for me, which I appreciate – it would be rubbish to have good news and have nobody be happy for you – I am very lucky to have such friends.

Talking of friends – today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Michael Scott – who is one of the organisers of the Swindon Poetry Festival.  I hadn’t met Michael before a couple of weeks ago – I thought I would get on with him – because he is very good friends with Hilda Sheehan and I trust her judgement….

However, sometimes you meet people and get on straight away and think you might be friends with them for a long time – this has happened to me a lot since I started writing poetry – maybe it is having something in common that it is easy to get passionate/obsessive about – I was thinking of listing those people but then realised there would probably be too many AND I would miss someone and they might be upset – so I will just say that Michael is one of those people – we had such a laugh all weekend and part of me would quite like to run off to Swindon and hang out with Michael and Hilda and go to lots of poetry events…however, I would then miss the hubby and all my poetry friends up here and the dogs and the cat etc so I stay put.  But instead here is a poem from Michael.  I found this on Michael’s wonderful website and asked if I could nick it.  He (obviously) said yes.  Michael’s website can be found here http://michaelscott.org.uk/

The poem was originally published in the Morning Star http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk

I love the title of this poem and I think it has a real energy about it with the use of dialogue that feels completely authentic.  I say dialogue – but although the poem details both halves of a conversation – the only part of the conversation that we get direct speech for is the neighbour’s words.  The ‘I’ of the conversation is reported speech by the poet – and it is clear from this technique that listening is only working one way – even though they both appear to be ignoring each other – the ‘I’ is responding to the ‘daily mail headines’ coming from the neighbour’s mouth by trying to distract – the neighbour is not responding at all to the ‘I’.  I don’t know if I have made that sound really complicated – but read the poem.  You’ll hopefully see what I mean and Michael does this more skilfully than I can explain in prose. 

I hope you enjoy the poem and maybe I will see some of you in Torbay at the Poetry Festival!

My Neighbour Speaks in Daily Mail Headlines – Michael Scott

‘Them addicts choose it don’t they?’
I told him it was a great day
to wash his car.

‘We pay them benefits, they buy heroin!’
I asked what sort
of wax he used.

‘And then they take it in prison’
I said I could tell he used
a chamois leather.

‘Or we pay for their rehab’
I admired his car but
thought of Carla.

‘Don’t give them nothing’
Carla sat next to me
full of smack.

‘Let them die’
Carla on Bournemouth beach
cuddling her dead friend.

‘Why don’t they understand?’
Carla at home
waiting for Dad’s sweaty palms.

‘It makes me mad it does’
I told him, I told him
he’d missed a bit.