‘Shock-construction’, a poem I wrote which should really have an exclamation mark in the title, has won second prize in The Elmet Trust Poetry Prize, judged by Steve Ely. You can read it, along with the first prize winner and other winners, on The Elmet Trust’s website, (I note that there’s an issue with the online formatting which means that the lineation of Penny Boxall’s winning poem hasn’t been faithfully replicated, although my poem is very simply structured and therefore unaffected). (“Actually, your poem is very affected, Jon. Ho ho ho.”)
As per the rules of the contest, the poem was in part inspired by Ted Hughes’ ‘The City’, which begins “Your poems are a dark city centre.” The other parts of its inspiration include the historical fact of shock-constructed cities in Soviet Russia, and an idle thought I had about whether there could ever be such a thing as a counterfeit book. But the whole thing is about judgement and the failure, or limitations, of judgement. Of course it is!
It’s fun, though, to read the judge’s remarks and discover his differing interpretation:
The second-placed poem: ‘Shock-construction’ seems to be a self-deprecating commentary on the humiliations and anxieties experienced by the aspiring writer, perhaps addressed to a publisher, editor or competition judge. As an entry to the Elmet Poetry Prize, this might be seen as ingratiating.
Ha! ‘Anxieties of an aspiring publisher’ might be closer to the mark when it comes to the contemplation on counterfeit books. You could also read the line about faked love as a dig at the emotional authenticity sought in poems, particularly competition-winning poems. I wonder if Steve Ely saw himself as the ‘you’ at the end of the poem, the film critic realising the screening is a con, realising that the medium itself is a con, and me as the poet-actor behind the silk screen of the paper, gooning for him, a desperately bad performance, daring him to get up and walk out and write a one-star review, so impertinently and gracelessly that he thinks, “Well, I won’t then. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you second prize instead. Second prize, Stone! The one nobody remembers! And you won’t get to pretend to be the drop-out, the ne’er-do-well. You’ll have to make do as the not-quite-first-rate-but-A-for-effort student. Then just see how your little game works out for you.”
Eh, probably not.
This contest also reminded me, by the way, that I really am genuinely very fond of Ted Hughes’ work. Some time after I entered, I found an original copy of River, with Peter Keen’s photographs, at Snoopers’ Paradise in Brighton. It’s one of my very favourite books.