It’s never too late to write poetry…
I’d like to say a few words about a subject I don’t often see explored in writing on contemporary poetry, in the hope that perhaps some of the sentiments expressed will chime with others. This year I was lucky enough to win a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award. I was drinking with the other winners in a pub after a reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, and the topic of the selection process came up. There was an almost unanimous agreement that each owed their success to the anonymous judging process. Although I didn’t instigate it (if anything, I was playing devil’s advocate), I find myself in line with the general sentiment. I might occasionally entertain the idea that now, after scoring a PBS recommendation and appearing in several anthologies, there’s a chance my name could somehow worm its way quietly into the hindbrain of a key decision maker or two, but the fact is that apart from the Gregory, the only other major prizes in which I’ve placed have been the two National Poetry Competitions – also judged anonymously.
It’s not that there’s flagrant nepotism in poetry (although some may disagree with that). It’s that our sense of poetic taste – just like our literal sense of taste – is informed by a variety of factors and contexts. You’ve heard the expression ‘my ears pricked up’. In the case of poetry, this seems particularly apposite – the idea that on noticing a particular name, one that carries connotations of prestige or prodigiousness, the ear – that organ especially employed in the judgement of a piece – becomes suddenly extra-sensitive. The anticipation of excellence then plays a part in the fulfilment of the promise.
The latter half of my youth revolved around hoops, orbiting wide rings, listening out for the net’s swish, attempting to make more fluid, more instinctive, ‘mo’ butter’ the complex body geometry of knowing instinctively how far you are from the ring at any time, how much palm-thrust and fingertip is needed to sail the basketball through. At 17, I developed exercise-induced-asthma, thus ended my hoop dreams. It was a painful breakup. I stopped watching my team play, felt betrayed by my body and tried to forget myself; I read books. Years passed before I felt comfortable enough to watch a game, and even longer before I stepped onto a court, knowing I was a shadow of my younger self.
The return came after a clip I stumbled across on the net: slow motion footage of a 360 dunk. A kid, half ogre, half figure-skater twirled upwards through a thorn-bush of arms, and everything seemed to make sense, I’d found a new way to connect with the game. It was a number of things: to dunk so gracefully meant time spent perfecting craft. To rise against opposing arms was a quest to define oneself against history. To twirl upwards, suggested style and such daring… The slow motion footage was a controlled, precise, timed. In short, I’d found poetry.
‘Here is a verbal contraption. How does it work?’ – W.H.Auden
‘A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words.’ – William Carlos Williams
In June this year, in celebration of 50 issues of Magma Poetry magazine, and in anticipation of more to come, Magma Poetry launched a new competition.
The entry period for both the Judge’s Prize for poems of up to 80 lines, and the Magma Editors’ Prize for poems of up to 10 lines is NOW OPEN and runs until end November.
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- Blog Review 22: Andrew Philip reviews ‘Snow Falling on Chestnut Hill’ by John F. Deane
- Blog Review 21: Padraig Rooney reviews ‘Death Comes for the Poets’ by Matthew Sweeney & John Hartley Williams
- Blog Review 20: Bethany W Pope Reviews Stephanie Norgate’s ‘The Blue Den’
- Call for submissions for Magma 57: The Shape of the Poem
- Magma 55 launch reading on Monday 25 February with Penelope Shuttle and Clare Pollard