6.30pm on Thursday evening, and I receive an email invitation to the National Poetry Competition and Ted Hughes Award prizegiving evening at the Savile Club in the swanky area of London that is Mayfair, taking place 24 hours later.
Quick calculation: do I go? What can I wear? What if no-one speaks to me? Can I find a friend to go with? (Yes, I still think like a teenager in these situations). But how could I turn down the opportunity – bling! Booze! Famous poets! Plus of course I was being invited in my capacity as Brighton Stanza rep, so it would be churlish of me not to be there, representing.
A quick shout-around on Twitter/Facebook/email and I couldn’t conjure up a companion, so I set off like a proper grown-up poet, but with a little trepidation. I needn’t have worried, poet friend Lynne was there which was a great relief. Plus the friendly Poetry Society faces of Kate and Mike. Shall I do a load of name dropping now? Perhaps not. But Carol Ann Duffy, as brilliantly down-to-earth as always, did give me the mwah-mwah – although I’m sure she had no recollection of me, but she was graciousness itself and didn’t show it.
When the Ted Hughes Award was announced I found myself in pole position to take photos, but did I? Did I ‘eck. No. It felt like too intimate an occasion to point my phone at anyone, but I would love to have taken some general pics of the room. Instead, I managed one shot of Maurice Riordan’s back, plus his willowy companion with the ombre hair, and one of a chandelier.
Anyway – to speak of the awards themselves, it was exciting when Maggie Sawkins was announced as the Ted Hughes winner, as one of her collaborators was Lewes’s own Mark Hewitt, standing a few feet from me and grinning from ear to ear. Briiliant. Also fighting in the Lewes corner were John Agard and Grace Nichols.
The NPC announcements included all the Commendeds coming up for applause, the winner and the third place poet read their poems and we heard the second place winner on a recording from the US. I did wonder for a moment about the name – National Poetry Competition – surely it’s international? Is the title a misnomer? Time for a change of name, perhaps? The winner was Linda France, with a lovely (sort of) gardening-themed poem, although that doesn’t do it justice. You can read it and see the vid here, and all the winners/winning poems here.
Interestingly, the Hamish Canham prize was also announced last night, earlier that usual. This was the prize I managed to grab last year, but there was no ceremony (but I did get a big piece in Poetry News) – the new winner Suzannah Fitzpatrick and her poem is up on the Poetry Society website, but alas my name from last year seems to have been erased – boohoo! And I thought I might still be in the list of previous winners at least. Every little counts to a delicate poet ego!
All in all, although I felt like a bit of a gatecrasher, it was a great event to be at, I did have quite a few very nice conversations with people, thank you to the Poetry Soc for the invitation. And of course, congratulations to all the winners. And finally …
I have to say, it’s worth a trip to London just for the joy of seeing quirky things like this … spotted on the lovely walk back to Green Park Station.