How often do you hear poets complain about that?

What? Not very often?

Not at all.

In my case, it’s not quite true. I went to St William’s College in York to receive my prize and read my prizewinning poem. The building is a wonderful fifteenth century place, lovely to read in, but, like all such buildings, a nightmare for health and safety. So, rushing to be in time for the reading, I missed my step crossing a dangerous landing, and plunged into the door jamb, lashing out with my right hand to stop my fall. For a moment my fourth finger assumed an agonising angle something like Captain Hook’s hook. I grabbed my hand in pain, and this seemed to reset it, though it proceeded to swell like a carrot on helium.

Usually if there’s anyone in pain in a poetry reading, it’s the audience but on this occasion the tables were turned. I was even considering refusing to shake hands with George Szirtes, and shocking the poetry-listening public, imagining myself wincing in agony as I palmed the cheque, but in the end it was over so quickly I didn’t have time for a wince.

However, my reading was upstaged because some poor woman arrived late, just before I read, to suffer almost exactly the fate I had, stumbling on the stair and reduced to tears before she could enter the hall, which rather spoiled the drama of my introduction. Nevertheless the poem went well, a couple of people took the time to say they liked it, George Szirtes’ comments set me beaming: if it wasn’t for the fact that every penny of the prize was already spoken for because we were returning to Sheffield to celebrate my daughter’s 21st with a meal, it would’ve been a pretty good day. (And the meal was great in any case: almost as good as the poem).

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