I was surprised and delighted to be shortlisted for the Brotherton Prize at Leeds University. To be chosen by a judging panel including poets such as Simon Armitage, Vahni Capildeo and Malika Booker, based on a submission of five poems really filled me with a huge sense of affirmation as a writer. Not to mention the announcement dinner, which made me feel more rock star than poet!
Rather unfashionably early, I waited in the Students’ Union Centre adjacent to the University Hall getting increasingly nervous. This was different to any other prize I had been shortlisted for. It involved a dinner. I have no problem getting up to read. It’s a performance of sorts and I have always loved a stage. I do confess however to fitting the hermit poet stereotype, in that networking and small talk are not my favourite things. You’d never think it though, especially after a couple of glasses of wine!
I needn’t have worried. The first person I met was Stella Butler, one of the judges, who introduced me to John Whale, another one of the judges and director of the Poetry Centre. They both made me feel so welcome. Next I met Maeve Henry, a fellow shortlisted poet, and her friend Bernadette. That settled me right down. We quickly discovered that we had once lived within a few miles of each other. I was born in Middlesborough and Maeve grew up in Redcar. That brought up such happy memories for me of riding the donkeys on Redcar beach and bringing goldfish home in a little clear plastic bag. Being in the North of England always feels like home-from-home. My affection for Yorkshire and the North East runs very deep. My Boro accent meanwhile hovers only just beneath the surface.
At dinner I got to sit between Vahni Capildeo and Zaffar Kunial ( who will be taking over from Vahni this summer in Leeds as a Douglas Castor Cultural Fellow). It was dreamy. I had never met either of them before but was already a huge fan of their poetry. I’m now re-reading them with their voices in my head. Big thanks to Stella and John, seating plan angels. We were all presented with flowers before the announcement. So I took a photo of them, not fancying my chances getting them onto my Ryanair flight home.
It was no surprise that Dane Holt was announced as the winner. Massive congratulations to him. He’s definitely one to watch. Congratulations also to Maeve, Pete and Robyn. The sweet part about this particular prize is that Dane and all of us shortlisted poets will be published in an anthology by Carcanet Press, which is something wonderful to look forward to.