There’s nothing to discombobulate you like scrolling down a poetry prize news page to discover you were one of the shortlisted poets. That happened to me today, after I’d congratulated Jo Bell for winning the first ever Charles Causley Poetry Prize. Her wonderful poem (with its great title) The Icicle Garden won the £3,000 first prize. I’d entered four poems, to be judged by Sir Andrew Motion, without any expectation. Poetry competitions aren’t rich. A first prize in the thousands is rare. I guessed if I didn’t try, I’d never know.
I had already put a ‘no’ in my spreadsheet that keeps track of which poems of mine are where. Instead, I found myself on a shortlist with poets whose work I admire, and briefly wondered if Sir Andrew had been making his way though his Laureate sherry backlog and had perhaps made a mistake.
This poem started life as a riff on something the poet John Glenday said: “A poem is seldom about what it is about.” He’s right, of course. He’s clever like that. I like hidden puzzles, so I wrote an acrostic on that theme. Pretentious? Probably. But I wanted to say something layered about how a poem can distract you with a metaphor or wordplay, and then kick you in the back of the head later on when you realise what it was really trying to say. How readers can – and will – pick apart your words and sniff out the nuances, looking for answers.
Ceci n’est pas une pipe
A poem is seldom about what it is about. John Glenday
Art is lying plausibly and well.
Re-tuning nature’s resonance and light
through human eyes, we harmonise a theme.
Intent can drift: legerdemain could frame
facsimiles without embedding truth.
Inhabiting our world and words, with both
collected by the wild folk for the tame,
intoxication leaches as a seam
along the fault lines poems hold, or ought.
Lie well. They excavate for pearls. Lie well.