A couple of weeks back, when poets were in the newspapers for winning prizes on every street corner, Conor wanted me to write about that Guardian piece that ended with: ‘Poetry rocks.’ I don’t need to; we’re over that now, and 99.8 per cent of the population are getting on with their lives, happily or miserably, without feeling any need to read poetry, and 99.8 per cent of poets are checking their sales figures and wondering where this rocking is going on. The attention is nice, but it’s not the business of poetry to rock. Whatever that business is, it’s something more against the grain. What grated in that piece was the triumphalism.
But here’s something about prizes, anyway. You never quite get a photo of the bashful winner holding up a vastly oversized cheque, as for pools and lottery winners. They draw back from that; a slim envelope is handed over and hurriedly pocketed; it doesn’t do to rub in the money aspect, because this is supposed to be about the honour of winning and the quality of the work. (Money and poetry is always awkward. I seem to recall Don Paterson being asked what he was going to do with his prize money and him saying – or was this DBC Pierre? or both? – he was going to pay off some debts; and someone else saying she was going to buy new curtains.) The point being this: if the cash is secondary to the honour, then let them come up with something a lot more original as the prize. Last night I had a dream in which a friend won a poetry prize, and the prize was this: meeting the Pope and rearranging the furniture in the Vatican.