Thursday, 24 September 2015
The Poetry Book Fair, the Forward Prizes
The handwritten date on the above is 5 October 2011. It’s a photograph I picked up from a shop in central London that was conducting an after-hours yard sale (big places go bust no less easily than small places; I once got a year’s supply of posh envelopes free from an office clear-out around Holborn), and I picked it up while walking from the Tube to the Waldorf Hotel in the Aldwych to meet Dennis Nurkse and Nancy Gaffield, whose names are also on that photo and who were shortlisted, respectively, for the main Forward Prize and the Forward First Collection Prize that year, the winners to be announced a little later that evening in Somerset House, just over the road, so not far to proceed after we’d pro-actively celebrated with champagne, jumping the gun.
I really can’t remember who won, that year. I do remember sitting in the courtyard, a little drunk, in drizzling rain, with Dennis, and bidding farewell to William Sieghart, founder of the Forwards, as he cycled bumpily off across the cobbles.
The Forward Prizes have moved on. They are now a much more public event, run with gusto by Susannah Herbert and Maisie Lawrence, with readings on the Southbank – see here for what’s happening next Monday. Back in 2011, there was a little newspaper flurry about the shortlist for the main prize comprising male poets only. In 2015, the judging panel is entirely female. Nod, sigh, bless. CBe has had a generous amount of free wine from the Forward Foundation: two poets shortlisted for the main prize (Nurkse, Brahic), three for the first collection prize (Morgan, Gaffield, O’Brien), and now this year Matthew Siegel for the first collection and Andrew Elliott for the single poem (chosen from Sonofabook magazine). People ask me who’s going to win and I wish they wouldn’t because I’ve read some of the books but by no means all. That’s the judges’ job, not mine.
The other reason I remember 5 October 2011 is because that very morning a stunningly beautiful 19-year-old woman knocked on the door and asked if a publisher lived here and claimed to be a poet and did I want to hear relationship stuff or politics, the former, but she rapped the politics too and I was seriously impressed and then we looked at her modelling portfolio and in particular the photo she thought would be good for the cover, bare millimetres of clothing, but her mum disagreed, what did I think? I thought, after careful consideration, that I probably wasn't the right publisher for her.
Publishing is about the most fun you can have during working hours. Is that why there are so many of us? There are eighty poetry publishers participating in the Poetry Book Fair at the Conway Hall in Holborn, London, this Saturday from 10 a.m., the annual gathering of the clans. Come along, if you haven’t got anything better to to do. Such as?