Swedish poet, Tomas TranstrÖmer, who was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature, might disagree. His prize? £940,000 (it’s the richest literary prize in the world). Hmm, you could buy quite a few Ikea meatballs with that.
And I have to say, that although poetry hasn’t exactly made me rich (*pause for hysterical laughter*), it has opened quite a lot of doors. Last Thursday, for example, it opened the doors of Westminster Hall and The House of Commons.
Back in the Summer I entered the John Clare* Trust’s annual poetry competition, which had the theme of ‘Celebration’. This is not false modesty – I honestly just dashed off something the day before the competition ended – so I was very lucky to come fourth in the adult section.
I went to the award ceremony at John Clare cottage, in Helpston, Northamptonshire, a couple of Saturdays ago, at which I was awarded a little cheque and a book of John Clare poetry.
*If you’ve never heard of John Clare (1793 – 1864), you probably just need to know:
• He was a contemporary of (and at one point, even out-sold), John Keats
• He’s considered by many to be amongst the most important 19th-century poets
• He wrote about the countryside and rural life. He was known as ‘The Peasant Poet’ (a name that he hated).
• He suffered from depression and spent the last 20 years of his life in a (so-called) ‘lunatic asylum’, where he continued to write.
• Judith Allnatt has written a novel about his life and marriage: “The Poet’s Wife” (which I’ve ordered from the library today).
So, what’s all this got to do with The House of Commons and Westminster Hall?
Well, part of the prize – courtesy of the very charming Barry Sheerman, MP – who’s a member of the John Clare Trust – was the chance for winners to read their poems in Westminster Hall, followed by lunch and a tour of The House of Commons. And very impressive – and interesting – it was too.
Westminster Hall, by the way, is an amazing place, oozing with history. For example, Charles I was condemned to death there in 1649, Winston Churchill lay-in-state there in 1965, Nelson Mandela addressed both Houses there in 1996 – oh, and little old me read my poem aloud, at the top of the steps, there in 2011. It was a bit surreal!
So don’t dismiss smaller writing competitions (by the way, Patsy Collins always highlights smaller and free-to-enter competitions on her blog. How she finds them is a mystery but I’m almost certain that I found out about the John Clare competition through one of her postings). The smaller competitions may not always have big prize money but you might win something that money can’t buy!