On prizes and poetry

December 13, 2010

‘I had rather be a kitten and cry mew                                                                   Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers’                                                     (Shakespeare, Henry IV part 1)

Poetry long ago lost its place as the most respected form of writing in our society; poets may be the legislators of the soul, but the number of souls within poetry’s jurisdiction is comparatively small.  You write poems, and you hope they make someone’s mind quake a little, or at least experience a bit of a shadowy quiver.  Poets are become the sherbet of the soul, it seems, if not the fruit tingles. (Fruit Frisson, anyone?)

Prizes for poetry are important in that they show that (a) at least one other person has read your work and (b) they liked it.  To be selected for an award judged by a ‘panel of experts’, all of whom must have preferences and peccadilloes (or armatures and armadillos) is sweet, as it means that your idiosyncratic words have touched more than one mind; perhaps even surprised people into forgetting that they are working their way through a pile of poetry taller than the average skyscraper.

I just heard that I have been awarded a prize called the David Campbell Prize (shared with another poet called Robyn Lance) administered by ArtsACT .  The poem, called ‘Visitation’ was very bleak indeed; a mediated response to stories that we read in the newspapers of parents who kill their children, stories which can haunt the reader for days.  I wanted to haunt the reader in the same way, to move well beyond sherbet.

Winning a prize for such a poem conjures forth ambiguous reactions: nothing could be further from my mind when I was working on the piece than the concept of winning.  Writing a poem about the murder of children to win a prize would be sick indeed.  (You’d be worse than a hack ‘ballad-monger’, regardless of whether the poem rhymed or not.)  But I am glad that a poem on a subject outside the usual palette of subject matter won the prize.