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 heard today that The Journal has nominated my poem, “Behind Kibuye Church”, for the 2014 Forward Prize. That’s my fourth nomination, which is always pleasing though, of course, the competition is fierce and there are quite a few magazines allowed to nominate. Obviously, there’ll be many more people nominated for the Single Poem competition than for the collection. I suppose there’s an outside chance my collection could be nominated as “First Collection”, though I don’t think this has ever happened to a Cinnamon book.

‘Chimney-Bird’, the poem which won the Southport competition, is now on their website, at: http://www.swconline.co.uk/n1/?cat=12

I’ve also been lucky enough to have a couple of poems accepted by The Journal, namely ‘Behind Kibuye Church’ and ‘Letter to the Dead’. These are both interesting poems to me, in that they came out of the Women and Warfare work I was doing in 2010, so it’s good that those poems are still finding homes.

Most of the 70 or so poems I wrote then  these days I find rather slight, but a handful do seem worthwhile, and ‘Behind Kibuye Church’ is one of these. Tackling a subject such as genocide which, of course, I cannot know the reality of in any meaningful way, is a tough thing to get an “honest” poem out of. ‘Letter to the Dead’ is one of seven such letters, but probably the most interesting of them, as I hit on the intriguing idea of using redaction in a poem, to signify censorship, and use the device to indicate the way that a distant soldier is eroded by distance, time and the nature of his situation. (I’ve used redaction again recently, in another poem, but for a different purpose).