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.

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!

I won!

This was a real surprise, as I was pretty sure I knew who the winner would be when I saw the shortlist. But it turns out I was wrong.

In an interesting, though perhaps a little self-indulgent literary salon (a first for me) discussing new writing at Somerset House (a first, too) meeting Romesh Gunesekera (also a first, of course) the announcement and presentation was made. This is my best prize so far, because this is an international magazine of some repute, and it was judged by Moniza Alvi, who’s a pretty sharp poet. I’m really pleased, so thanks to Wasafiri.

I think the only downside was that I more or less confirmed some of the characteristic failings of contemporary poetry lit culture which were being discussed in the salon prior to the award, by being a white, middle-aged, British male winner of a prize in a magazine which is trying hard to promote writers of colour, an international agenda, and young writers wherever possible. I think my poem, “Anthropology of Loss”, fits the agenda, even if I don’t, but I did feel a little ambivalent taking the prize: overjoyed at the success, but slightly concerned that there might be others better suited for such a wonderful award.

The poem, along with the winners of the Fiction and Life Writing prizes will be published in the March issue of Wasafiri. You can find the list of winners and the shortlisted works at: http://www.wasafiri.org/pages/news_01/news_item.asp?News_01ID=205

Just heard that I’m shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing prize, one of five poets. Won’t know the final results till a special event in October (a literary salon at Somerset House, of all things, which will be a first for me!)  but it’s great to have done so well with a competition like this and especially with Moniza Alvi as judge.