Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Out With the Old | Poetry | Eric Gregory Awards 2011

“that’s one fucker of a fucker, eh?”
“Aye, man, you took the words right out of my mouth.
-Niall Campbell

Last week was an important time in the world of poetry, for we saw the announcement of this year’s Eric Gregory Award winners who were, if you do not already know, Holly Hopkins, Niall Campbell, Tom Chivers, Martin Jackson and Kim Moore.

I had the pleasure of attending the traditional winners’ reading, hosted in the Betsey Trotwood by Roddy Lumsden.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I go to a lot of poetry events of all shapes and sizes, and as a result I feel that I have developed a fairly keen ear for what works and what does not.

I say this as if it is a hard skill to master; it isn’t. If you can let a week pass after seeing a poet for the first time and still remember something impressive about their reading, then what they are doing works. It really is as simple as that for me. Last Wednesday’s reading was that rare thing of a live event where everyone’s set lodged itself in my perforated memory fairly vividly.

I have known Tom Chivers and Holly Hopkins for long enough not to have been surprised by how well they read (Tom’s crowning moment was probably his masterful inclusion of the calculator-friendly word, ‘boobless’ in a poem and Holly infuriatingly read one of the most beautiful nuptial poems I have ever heard at a point in my life when I am desperately trying to write something for a friend’s wedding).

The other three were a pleasant revelation however. Kim Moore’s mixture of youthful energy and dry sense of humour made for an entertaining end to the opening section. In listening to her describe the interior of a Wetherspoons pub whilst evoking Dante’s Inferno, I felt a slight kindred spirit with the many hours I have spent poetically dissecting life in a public house.

She finished with a hilarious piece about what happens to poets when they retire, how they will look at a beautiful night sky and no longer feel obliged to construct metaphors. The piece almost read as if it could be Philip Larkin’s letter declining the post of poet laureate in 1984.

Martin Jackson filled the stage with a very different type of energy. Just as memorable as his poetry were the brief beguiling snapshots of his life given between poems. Jackson appears to evoke everything that we want our writers to be – handsome, busy-minded folk living in houses with wardrobes propped up with discarded early drafts and shelves full of books with the covers ripped off.

The last poet to read was Niall Campbell, a writer introduced with much glee by his fellow Scotsman, Lumsden (they both celebrated Campbell being the first Scot to win a Gregory in 16 years by downing a glass of Scotch on stage before the reading).

Campbell’s poetry was worth the wait however. His voice is that of a small-town boy who can see the big picture and his ability to imbue the minutiae of a remote life with a profound universality puts me in mind of Michael Longley.

In the past, the Eric Gregory awards have proved a fairly sound prophecy of the people who will go on to achieve great things in the world of poetry. If the five people who read last Wednesday are where poetry is heading, then I can sleep easy tonight knowing that we are in safe hands.

It is a real honour to be part of a group that hosts such talented new writers and I look forward to bringing you new work by some of this year’s Gregory Winners in Silkworms' exciting imminent rebirth this year.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

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