Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Magma Poetry Awards Night

Me and a Magma
London was freezing cold, Bloomsbury at its sharpest.  Like any good provincial I was distracted by the window displays but was securely borne along by my London-based friend so that we arrived at the RADA Studios almost without my noticing.

Inside, all was warm and friendly.  We were briefed about the running order and given our free copy of Magma, before swigging some wine.

Short poems first, with winners reading both their own and a favourite written by someone else.  This was often a perfect sidestep from where they'd started from, very good to listen to.   Paul Stephenson, the winner, was really, really good, reading 'The Pull', a poem of 10 short lines, that began: 'Moon is a dare:// a raid on a haystack,/a stock of silver,/a salver of harvest...'

Then we had the specially commissioned poems from Moniza Alvi, Simon Barraclough, Tom Chivers and Claire Crowther: varied, surprising, skillful.

Paul Stephenson 1st Prize short poem
Gillian Clarke read from 'Ice'.  I willed her to read 'Polar', the poem about the polar bear rug - and she did.
'I'm dreaming on the white bear's shoulder,/paddling the slow hours, my fingers in his fur'.

She was a smiling, generous judge, who although she said she wouldn't comment on individual poems then suddenly changed her mind and did so.
Which did make us all very happy.  I read my shortlisted poem John Henderson Walks, happy to think of it under Gillian's stone on her piano, having  made it to her 'Maybe' pile.

I thought the top 3 poems Gillian chose were all exceptional.  Amali Rodrigo (who had come all the way from Mumbai!) read Glacier Lagoon, with its attenuated, perfect, inevitable metaphors - 'learning a new language// unable to shake off the foot-fall/ of an old tongue, floes drift, hang//back at the river-mouth, shape-shifting/...
Gillian Clarke

In Lucy Ingrams' poem Snow Tide, the 2nd prize winner, we were again breathing cold air, in a poem so understated you are halfway through before it makes its meaning simply, terribly clear: 'She starts, "You are my... my...?"/We laugh and answer, "...daughters!"/It takes no hold, she starts/again, stirs salt into our tea.// I trace the valley's freeze...'

Third prize winner Rosemary Hudis took me instantly and simply back to the house I grew up in with 'The Women of my Childhood' ...'who, as I came out of the fog/of my own play in a brick-quiet/yard, back through a kitchen door/were always bending/away into another act//their hands vanishing into bowls'

Thank you Magma for such a well planned, warmly executed evening.  It was a treat to meet Rebecca Bilkau after we'd collaborated on the Solstice poems project last midsummer.   And also Laurie Smith, Rosie Shepperd, Anja Konig, Simon Barraclough and Anne-Marie Fyfe.  And finally, thank you Shona, who looked after me for two days.  Long ago, we ran off to France by bicycle for a whole year, in the interests of avoiding Thatcher's Britain.  But this week, as well as getting me safely to the Magma Awards, she took me to the Schwitters in Britain exhibition (which is another story, a good one), the John Soane Museum (weird corridors of the mind) and very much more.
Amali Rodrigo 1st prize winner

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