The Forward Prizes

‘The Invention of Fireworks’ has been short-listed among the Forward Prizes for the Felix Dennis Prize awarded to the best first collection.  Wonderful news at the beginning of June, entirely unexpected and therefore all the more exciting;  and pleasing too for Templar Poetry, my publisher, since Templar is the only truly independent publisher of those represented.   Six good collections from six good poets means that each of us can feel pleased and proud to be on the list, whichever one of us eventually is chosen on 30 September as the prizewinner.

One of the questions put by the Forward Committee to the six short-listed poets concerned how we began writing poetry in the first place.  I suddenly recalled that one of the many schools I went to used as a punishment the learning by  heart of quite long pieces of poetry.  I learned reams, acres of poetry – often Shakespeare – so the sounds and rhythms of the English language were in me from an early age, even though I may not at that point have understood the meaning fully.  Far from punishing me, it rewarded my difficult behaviour, and provided me with a source of pleasure and solace.   Whole lines and particular individual words themselves became, like sweets, something that could saved up and enjoyed, relished in secret.

The announcement of the short-lists for the Forward Prizes made the front page of the Guardian, mainly because of Jeremy Paxman’s accompanying complaint that too many poets write only for each other, rather than for ‘ordinary people.’   He’s the Chairman of the Judging Panel, and I imagine would not consider himself to be an ordinary person.   But then where are they to be found?   Two paramedics I encountered recently in a sudden ambulance trip to hospital, must have looked up my website having taken my details for the medical records; and then went on to listen to a recording of ‘Kamikaze’.   They suddenly appeared in the cubicle in A & E where I was lying and, beaming, said how much they liked it.   Clearly extraordinary people!    And a great boost to recovery from concussion…