I’m just considering whether to enter the Torriano competition this year, and surprised to discover I’ve one, or possibly two, poems listedin the “Nearly Made it – deserved to” category (i.e. the top 30 of 800), last year. “Gennel” definitely made it, and “Fin” might have – I can’t tell if the mistake is in my name, or in the placing of the titles. Hopefully the latter – though I quite like the double-barrelled “Noel Williams-Fin”.

Oh, and I recently received my copy of Orbis #169. I wasn’t involved in editing issue #168 so that Out of Breath could be reviewed, and Carole kindly published two poems of mine, which helped support the review. Issue #168 confirms that I won the Readers’ Vote, which is very gratifying, if a little embarassing, with a poem called ‘Night Scented Stock’, from a sequence I wrote in 2013, but have not yet tried to secure publication for. Maybe I should.

What’s in a nomination?

I’ve never won the Forward Prize, and probably am not likely to. However, I have been nominated four times (twice by Orbis, once by Wasafiri, once by The Journal). I thought the Pushcart Prize was for US writers only, but it seems it’s international, and a poem of mine has just been nominated by Neon Literary Magazine.

My ego is pleasantly groomed, of course, and, who knows, maybe the poem, ‘1984 in 1968′, will be one of the winners. It’s not a bad little poem at all, but I wouldn’t count it as one of my very best. However, judges and editors are strange beasts, and what they might choose may well be very different from the choice I’d make. That’s one of the pleasures and puzzles of publication.

But it made me wonder whether a nomination means very much, beyond what it can do for the poet’s ego. It does mean that one of your editors judges your poem amongst the best she or he has published. That’s nice. And it does mean they think it has a chance of a prize, more chance than others that might be considered. Yet there must be hundreds of poems nominated for a Pushcart, There were 64 winners last year, including such notables as Louise Gluck and Philip Levine and I’d dearly love, of course, to be in their company. So, yes, the prize itself would be great: one of the sixty four best poems published in little magazines around the world? Similarly, each of those four Forward nominations led me into a little fantasy of being shortlisted, appearing in the Forward collection, winning that prestigious prize. So I’m not going to complain.

But if there are 64 winners, how many nominations were there? If all the magazines on Duotrope which take poetry each submit 6, then that’s over 20,000 nominations. Now, obviously the actual number is nothing like this, because that would make the job of deciding almost impossible. Even so, there must be hundreds, if not thousands of nominations annually. The competition is massive, but the nominations pretty numerous, too.

Still, do I care? I’ve been nominated. I’m going to add it to my list of successes. Like the Ancient Mariner, I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen. At least it gives me something to talk about.

I’m looking at my diary for the year to come. It’s an exciting year for me.

Early in March I read with the Writing School of The Poetry Business at The Wordsworth Trust’s Jerwood Centre, their wonderful museum next to Dove Cottage at Grasmere. That’s Sunday March 2nd, 2.30.  See HERE 

It’s a free event, so you should come along if you can to hear a great variety of UK poets, namely Jim Caruth, Jennifer Copley, Lydia Harris, Fokkina McDonnell, Jane McKie, Kim Moore, Alan Payne, Paul Stephenson, Pam Thompson, Liz Venn, Noel Williams, David Wilson, Gina Wilson and River Wolton.

Jennifer has recently published Sisters, which will be reviewed in the next Orbis. River published her collection Indoor Skydiving  which I hope to review myself at some point. Both are great books. Kim’s If We Could Speak Like Wolves was one of the most interesting pamphlets published last year, reviewed in the TLS no less. Kim also has one of the liveliest poetry blogs in the UK. Gina, Alan and Jim also have really good pamphlets, though published a couple of years ago now. Gina’s Paper, Scissors, Stone  is quite quirky and very clever. Alan has a particularly good line in the terse personal lyric, as shown in his pamphlet: Exploring the Orinoco. Jim’s Marking the Lambs is full of his soft, compassionate, gentle voice. (You can find my Antiphon review of it here).

Unfortunately my own Out of Breath is unlikely to be around as early as March 2nd. The official launch is planned for Tuesday 25th March at the the welcoming branch of Waterstones in Sheffield’s Orchard Square, who always put on excellent book launches. Starts at 6.30. I’ll make a proper announcement when there’s a publicity sheet to send out.

In rapid succession:

  • just heard from Cinnamon that I was one of six finalists in their poetry collection award, but didn’t quite get to the final two for publication, which is disappointing but still encouraging;
  • then received my copies of the latest anthology In Terra Pax (in which I’ve three poems) which, as usual, has a great mix of quality poems and stories, including one by my good friend Tricia Durdey;
  • then received two books from Cinnamon for review in Orbis, both of which rather tempt me to do the job myself: Will Kemp’s Nocturnes (I’ve admired Will’s work for some while, even though he keeps knocking me back in competitions) and Omar Sabbagh’s The Square Root of Beirut, a new voice to me, but one which appears on first reading to connect intelligent insight with sensitive originality.

The Forward Prize is one of the most coveted of UK poetry prizes. So, along with most poets in the UK, it’s one of my ambitions. Unlikely, of course, but we all need aspirations.

Today Carole Baldock, who edits Orbis, told me she’s putting forward my poem “Presumably Butterflies” for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in memory of Michael Donaghy, and Wasafiri has already selected my poem “The Anthropology of Loss” for the same honour. Realistically, there’s little chance of being shortlisted: last year the six shortlisted poems came from the Bridport, the National, Staple, the TLS (x2) and Magma although, to be fair, most were by poets who are not that well known. But simply getting into the Forward anthology would be quite an achievement – and now I’ve two chances of doing that!

It’s busy, busy, busy at the moment.

Sheffield’s Literary Festival, “Off the Shelf” begins in October. I’m in five events, and most of them are attached to other activities. Matter #10 will be launched, a golden magazine, so there’ll be two events launching and reading from it (at Blackwells on 13th Oct and Riverside on 21st Oct) and a third, excitingly, at the London Review  Bookshop (7pm Nov 4th). With Angelina Ayers, we’ll also be Bank Street’s Poetry Cafe reps at the Word Tent Launch of OTS on the 9th Oct. Angelina and I will also be running a day long workshop at Bank St Poetry Cafe linking poetry and art (you get to do a bit of both). I’ll be running a community writing workshop at Greenhill Library in Sheffield on the 13th. Finally, as a member of the brilliant Tuesday Poets we’ll be launching our new CD of poetry on the 26th Oct at Fusion Cafe.

Additionally, for the length and breadth of OTS Angelina and I are organising a “Poet in Residence for a Day” scheme at Bank St, so budding writers can drop on every day and work with a different poet. Some great poets are committing to this idea, making themselves available for what is a programme of free poetry workshops/consultations nearly a month long. I’m not sure there’s been an event like this before.

All of these things, in different ways, need organising and preparing for: whether it’s sorting out a programme, rehearsing, recording, planning the CD or simply encouraging fellow poets to sit in the Poetry Cafe and share their expertise.

But I’m also delivering several workshops for Art in the Park. I did a couple for Nook Lane Junior School, in Stannington and the year 3s seemed to have a great time. They certainly produced dozens of wonderful poems. Today we gave poetry workshops in Wither Woods, at Denby Dale (near Wakefield). Although the weather was a bit fractious, around 30 people turned up to write poems in the woodlands.

If you live in or near Denby Dale, I’m also running a series of free writing workshops in the evenings. Although they’re primarily focused on poetry, I’ll be aiming to deal with the whole range of interests of whoever turns up: whether its short stories, novels, life writing, children’s writing – even journalism, perhaps. You can come along to one session or all of them.

And I’m still continuing with the Poetry Business Writing School. This month we have to write a poem a day for a fortnight, and send six poems for commentary by a fellow poet AND find a poem that we can face receiving feedback on from Michael Laskey, of all people. (And also read Coleridge and Wordsworth in our spare time).

The upshot is, I’ve not been sending out so many poems for publication or competition. It’s nice, therefore, to find this week that readers of Orbis #51 have voted my poem “Presumably Butterflies” the best in the mag, and the Yeovil Poetry Competition gave me a Highly Commended, which is pretty good, too.

Made it onto the cover of the latest Orbis (alongside Ben Wilkinson, another excellent Sheffield poet). Here’s the proof, if you doubt such a thing is possible (Click on the image to expand it):