In the semi-acronymic spirit of NaPoWriMo, and to celebrate the recent announcement of the winners of this year’s Rialto Nature Poetry Competition, I thought I’d share some extracts of my diary over the period of the competition and try to figure out where I went wrong…
I give you: the Diary of a NaPoCoLo (a Nature Poetry Competition Loser).
November 27th 2017
There’s another poetry competition up. Rialto Nature this year judged by the magnificent Michael Longley (surely one of our finest living poets). I read his ‘Collected’ on holiday in York one year; he obsessed me and I spent most of my time with him in our little Self-Catering while my wife and daughter were out painting the Shambles red. I’ve got a few nature poems kicking around so I’m going to have a look and see if anything will fit the bill.
December 3rd 2017
Not sure my old efforts will quite make the grade, but I’ve come up with a few ideas that I hope might catch Michael’s attention. I went on a Hawking afternoon after reading that Helen MacDonald book the year before last, I think that might provide a bit of inspiration with a little thought; if not then Seaton Carew near my parents’ place up north is good for birds and shells and wildflowers things like that. I’m pretty confident I can come up with the goods this year.
December 14th 2017
I’ve written five poems that I’m thinking of sending in to the Rialto comp. Three of them are about flora of various types and I’m extremely pleased with them. I got a couple of old folk-names in there and I’m happy that they work metaphorically. The other two have got the fauna end covered. Fox at Night is probably the strongest single work and frankly I’d be surprised if it didn’t make the longlist at the very least. I’m not quite so sure about At Swim Two Penguins but I’ve got plenty of time to tinker.
December 15th 2017
Spent the whole evening and most of the night on the penguins poem. Changed almost everything. This is, quite simply, the best thing that I or anyone else has ever written, I’m absolutely sure of it. It is called The Stooping Men. I can almost see Michael’s kind old face smiling down on it as he reads. Possibly brushing away an admiring tear. I sent it straight off (I sent the others too, but I’ve emotionally invested in my penguins now). I honestly don’t think it can fail to win.
January 15th 2018
Argh! The waiting is hell. I emailed Rialto today to find out what the hold-up was only to be told that the deadline isn’t until the beginning of March.
March 1st 2018
Deadline Day. So, the first half of the waiting is over, and now the second half begins. And all the time The Stooping Men is just sitting there in the middle of a pile of papers by Michael’s venerable elbow. No need to worry though, he’ll get to it in time; and when he does…game over. Apologies to other entrants, but you’ve wasted your money this year. I have absolute faith in Michael’s good taste as a writer and reader.
March 31st 2018
Argh! The waiting is hell.
April 15th 2018
Spent the drive to work daydreaming about standing on stage with Michael and the Rialto crew, accepting my award. I assume they’ll want me to do a reading. Might print it off this evening so it’s all ready. Planned a little anecdote about penguins.
April 30th 2018
Argh! The waiting is hell.
May 1st 2018
The email was waiting when I got back from walking the dog this afternoon. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and prepared for glory…
The pounding in my chest as I realised that my name did not appear either in the first three, or the second two, or…insult without end! …even on the longlist.
For the love of God, what is going on here? I switched the TV on and off in fury. I went upstairs. I came back down. I boiled the kettle, twice. Then I had a cup of tea and finally settled down, but I could still feel my blood bubbling away in my ears as I started to come to terms with this stark new reality. It was like waking up after the referendum. Worse. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t win. I don’t even care about the winning, it’s just a little hobby of mine really, you know? It was more the betrayal. The bloody Rialto say they are going to pick the best and then they fail to notice a bloody classic right under their bloody noses. I don’t think Michael can have ever even seen the poem. They must have had some underling working on it, someone who doesn’t know a classic piece of contemporary literature from a slap in the face with a cold fish. I’m going to have to look into legal action.
May 5th 2018
Reading back over couple of Longley’s poems, I’m not sure he hasn’t been over-rated all these years. I mean, are we really interested in his grandchildren and the mosses of Carrigskeewaun?
May 7th 2018
The days pass. The anger subsides ands turns to shock, the shock to disappointment. And finally, acceptance.
May 10th 2018
I opened up The Stooping Men on the laptop this evening. I just thought I’d have a look over it. Bit of a post mortem I suppose. I read it through a few times in my head. I read it aloud. I recorded myself reading it and played it back. I read it to my wife when she got back from work. I read it to my daughter when she got back from school. And the funny thing is that as I read it over and over and looked at my family’s kind and sympathetic faces, I noticed something that I’d never noticed about it before. Something that had never occurred to me in all the time I was writing it and in all the time I was waiting for the competition results, but which now jumps out at me as the overriding and fundamental feature of the poem. It’s shit.