“There’s No Money In Poetry…

But then there is no poetry in money, either ..” goes the famous saying (Robert Graves )

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!

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10 Responses to “There’s No Money In Poetry…

  1. Michaela Eyley says:

    Wow, very well done Helen – that sounds like a mind-blowing and nerve-wracking experience, but I bet one you’ll never forget. How exciting! I wish my travel and restaurant reviews got me somewhere but at least they get read. Keep it up, I am sure you’ll hit the big time one day and then we can watch you on “This Morning” with the Silver Fox or “Loose Women” or a more serious niche programme for writers of course (no offence intended, but big time does tend to mean popular, does it not?).

    • Michaela – thanks for your comments. I’m not offended at all, in fact I would be delighted (if a little terrified) to be on something like This Morning or Loose Women!! As long as they paid me, eh..!

  2. Keith Havers says:

    What a brilliant prize. Congratulations, Helen. Maybe your poem did so well because it was spontaneous.
    I hope you enjoy Judith Allnatt’s book. I attended one of her creative writing workshops and it was well worth it.
    I can endorse what you say about Patsy’s blog. It’s an excellent source of free writing competitions.

    • Thanks Keith. yes, I meant to say (but thought I’d rabbited on enough in that post already!) that I’ve also attended one of Judith Allnatt’s workshops and it was excellent. She’s got another one taking place in one of the libraries in Derbyshire on Saturday 19th November, if anyone’s interested. Only £25 too which is very good value for a whole day. I can’t go but I would if I was around that weekend.

  3. Graham Hawes says:

    Well done. Sometimes, experiences can be more rewarding than money, although they don’t pay the bills.

    And now you have intimate knowledge of the inside of Westminster Hall to use as a setting in a story.

  4. bigmammafrog says:

    Sounds like you had a great time!

    I’ve never won anything through short story competitions, but this past year I’ve been placed in four of the twelve small(ish) poetry competitions I’ve entered (with prizes including two lots of £50 vouchers – not to be sniffed at!). It may not be the route to fame and glory, but if you can write poetry I’d definitely advocate checking out the smaller poetry competitions.

    p.s. Patsy’s blog looks fab.

    • I absolutely agree. I don’t know whether fewer people enter the poetry competitions (more fool them!) but I think you’ve got much more chance in winning something from poetry than fiction. Give it a go, all you people out there who think they can’t write poetry! What have you got to lose? You might actually enjoy it! (and it’s a lot quicker than writing fiction too)  

  5. Hi Helen, I think if you love poetry, it’s the enjoyment that counts, though the odd cheque is always welcome. Reading and writing poetry seem to make the mind relax. Sounds like you had a great time. I’m sure you’ll find a story in there somewhere. I agree that Patsy finds some unusual competitions. I recently won a book of short stories from her prompt on Emerald writing workshop.

  6. Congratulations on your success with the John Clare competition. I did blog about it, so I’m going to take the credit for having informed you about it!

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