Awards and Concerns

Posted by Expert Gadget Reviewer on Friday, 8 September 2006

Ok, ok, so it’s been far too long since I posted even a snippet of news or meandering insight online. I have no justifiable excuse, either: aside moving back up to Sheffield, settling in quite quickly, having a friend up from back home and spending pleasant afternoons wandering about town and drinking coffee, I’ve done nothing. Nothing aside fish out a poem or two, anyway.

But suddenly I have a pressing concern that I can only address by firing it out into the soothingly uninterested universe of cyberspace: the Eric Gregory Awards. For those of you not familiar with them, the Awards are made annually and total £24,000 each year,

‘awarded to British poets under the age of 30 on the basis of a submitted collection.’

That works out at about four grand per poet, usually, but the money isn’t really an issue, despite it being a rare financial incentive which, let’s face it, poets don’t often see. No, the kudos and hopeful stepping stone from magazine publication to published collection is the real reason I’m hoping my twenty five-ish poems cut the mustard and impress the mystery board of judges. And strangely, ever since I’ve been seriously thinking about submitting a collection, it’s transpired that the real concern isn’t the poems themselves, but the ordering of said poems.

You see, the poems themselves have been written in the window of roughly one and a half years. For this reason all of my work is pretty sporadic, and I struggled to find a unifying theme at first, something to bind the poems together, the egg white in the cake, if you like. Why find a theme to tie them up with, you might, if interested, ask? Well, for this realisation I have a certain Ros Barber to thank. Ros, I reckon (hopefully without sounding like an obsessive stalker), is a pretty damn good poet. But, if I can take the selfish liberty of quoting her views on the Awards and, to a lesser extent, poetry more generally:

I suspect, if it's anything like the Poetry Business Pamphlet Comp (and it probably is, but with a different panel of judges) that they would be more likely to go with a themed collection. My problem with these things (up to and including my first collection) is that I always preferred to show 'range'. But 'range' is definitely out. 'Voice' is in.

‘Voice’ is in. Is it? After much trawling through the contemporary poetry collections I’ve read, and the work of previous Eric Gregory Award winners, I’ve concluded Ros is right. Maybe it isn’t a bad thing that she’s right, but look at a handful of recent (and crucially successful) collections and it rings true: James Sheard’s Scattering Eva, Nick Laird’s To a Fault, Alice Oswald’s Woods etc., the list goes on with the odd exception of, say, Jane Yeh’s series of dramatic monologues, Marabou. But the point is, ‘range’ is out. The market is geared to poetry collections that hold together in the same way their perennially more popular siblings the novels do, however loosely that may be. (Which is why (on a side note) to some extent, Ros Barber's collection How Things Are On Thursday didn't receive the critical acclaim it deserved. Seriously, compare it to some collections that have been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in the past couple of years and you'll hopefully agree it's as strong, if not stronger. Also, if you do so, you'll have started the beginnings of a small collection of contemporary poetry, and hence will be doing yourself and British culture a favour).

And so (returning to matters in hand), I think in discovering this slight dilemma, I’ve solved it. Because conveniently, though I’d always naturally thought of my poems as cousins sharing only a little in common, it turns out a general bloodline runs right through them, one I only picked up on after realising (or rather, being helped to realise) what would bolster a group of poems that I believe to stand strong individually, and hopefully now do the same collectively, as a collection under a general heading. And so tomorrow, after spending much time deliberating on an interesting, pleasurable, and smooth running order for the poems, I’m going to spend a day with two writing (and crucially honest) friends assessing what might be done to improve the collection further. Fingers crossed, then, as June might just end up being a decisively happier month…

Upcoming: Poem, ‘Seed’, appearing in the October edition of the online poetry magazine, Poetry Matters. View it at
Poem, ‘Filter’, forthcoming in the Winter 2006/7 or Spring 2007 issue of Poetry Review.