As mentioned yesterday, the winners of the Forward Poetry prizes will be announced this evening and I feel more excited than I usually do about the Booker. This is the first year I have really paid any attention to all this... Best Collection (£10,000) Best First Collection (£5000) and Best Single Poem (£1000) but in future years I feel sure I will seek out the entire short list.
On Thursday, to coincide with National Poetry Day, the Forward Book of Poetry will be published. Previous winners include some illustrious names, much-loved on here...Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Alice Oswald, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Kathleen Jamie.
The annual Forward anthologies, a collection of poems from the cream of contemporary poetry published in Britain and Ireland in the previous year (sixty plus poets in this volume) offer a really useful introduction to what is out there, especially if, like me, you look at the poetry section in a bookshop and wonder where to start. There is longevity to poetry, a constant revisiting and re-reading that will last a lifetime, making it such a good investment, but choosing a book of poetry is so utterly subjective. We may all need differing degrees of consolation, or teaching, or warning, or cheering, or uplifting, or empathy at any one time, and words have the power to achieve it all in great measure, but the buying decision can be a hard one to make on the hoof. This anthology offers the opportunity to explore many different voices, and I loved it from the minute I opened it and discovered Steve Ely's Incipit Euangelium Secundum Wat Tyler..
1. Three things: firstly, and no offence;
never trust a King.That was our downfall,
the idiotic peasant conceit that a divine
right tyrant propped up by a cabal of
mammonite murderers could ever rule
with the interests of his people at heart.
'King Richard and the true commons' my
Those are just the opening lines, I suspect this one in performance would be splendid.
I have Michael Symmons Roberts' Drysalter, also short-listed for Best Collection, ready and waiting, next in my poetic queue ..
...once I have finished the splendid Sleeping Keys by Jean Sprackland. I have discovered that the best method for me is to read one collection at a time and really get to know the voice of the poet, and for those who were wondering about my poetry notebook...
I allow a page for each poem and I do read them in the published order. I don't write out the entire poem, though I may note down the occasional line. It's much more about the spontaneous thoughts that come into my mind as I read. Sleeping Keys for example, just the title had me wondering from the off about the unseen, hidden meanings that may lie dormant in the poems, mine to unlock...and had I not written that down I sadly may never have remembered it again in a month of Sundays.
Jean Sprackland has a Highly Commended poem in the Forward Book of Poetry (Moving the Piano,) as does Clive James. His poem Holding Court might be one of the saddest, most poignant. most meaningful poems you will read this year.
There are some real diamonds to be found in the world of poetry collections right now, poetry is 'lit-up living language' suggests Jeanette Winterson in her introduction as Chair of the judges for the Forward Prizes, and the covers are stunning... or maybe this year I have the time and the inclination to hear and see it all properly. Poetry has slowly found its place again in my regular reading and I am thankful; a genuine option in its own right, not just when I might be undecided about what to read next. It has always had the power to touch something in the soul that I may not have known was there, but I think I have often been too busy to stop and notice it.
The imagery from one poem in the Forward Book of Poetry has stayed with me from the minute I read it. All those hopes and expectations that arrive with a new baby, chimed with great resonance for me with Rebecca Goss's collection Her Birth and, as it is a poetic week of sharing all round, I hope I won't be hung, drawn and otherwise quartered for quoting it in full on here, I just couldn't resist...
In the minutes after birth, when midwives
do their weighing, swaddling, when they
hand you to your mother for your first suck,
all your shoes line up outside theroom:
tiny soft-cloth purses, straight-laced
school brogues, one-night pairs you hired
for bowling, ice-skates, thigh boots, killer heels,
right through to soft again - misshapen slippers.
There is mercy in this moment,
so fleeting that your mother, father, never walk
the line, nor see it falter into sole-heeled poverty,
or stop halfway with an immaculate stiletto.
Besides you cannot read the runes from shoes.
You might become an actor, a dictator, barefoot
centenarian, a rumour, a ghost, a name in a book.
Michael Symmons Roberts (Drysalter)