I’m a bit rubbish at sending work off and competitions are just not my thing. I can’t visualise any circumstances in which my work would be picked out from the hundreds of other entries. It’s not so much that I think it’s not good enough; I often think it’s OK, and sometimes that it’s good and once in a blue moon I think something is really good. I just can’t see it rising to the top.
That said, I do occasionally send out work. More often than not it’s in a flurry of activity, after which I scribble on and on, with my head down for another year. The places I send to are mostly what I’d call ‘Opportunities’; the things that come up where it seems as if the organisation is looking for more information from you, they’re trying to understand who you are, what you’re doing and what you want/need. I think I go for them because they aren’t simply looking for a Thing, a bright something that catches the eye; I’m not eye-catching and neither are my poems on their own. Being given the opportunity to put some together and to explain my thought processes and lines of enquiry is, for me, a chance to clarify, both for those reading my application and for myself. The requirement that I explain, expand and describe so much in so few words is hard, often frustrating, work. And it takes time. What it does do though, is make me think long and hard about those things and in doing so I start to understand my own writing a bit better and to see just what it is I actually need to do.
In one of those rare fits of activity I applied for a NWA New Poets Bursary, as it was then called. And I got one! I know everyone says this but I genuinely couldn’t understand how that had happened; I was 62 years old with hardly anything published to my name. I opened the email late one evening and simply didn’t understand it. Then I did.
The year I spent on it was marvellous; every aspect so well planned by the Poetry School and brilliantly delivered by Clare Pollard. I learned so much and slowly during that year began to feel myself to be part of the world of poetry, not just with my fellow bursary recipients with whom I was regularly writing, talking and spending time, but part of the wider community of poets and poetry. This was a huge step forward for me; I don’t ‘mix’ all that well, I can’t network to save my life and travel is a bit of a nightmare. I live in a fairly remote area with poor transport links and I have a disability that makes travelling hard work and expensive. And yet there I was, starting to belong.
I understood something else as a result of getting that bursary and it’s this: such things are for people like me. I say it all the time; to people on low incomes who have never studied at higher level; people who say they were rubbish at school and only scraped two GCSE’s; people who are scared of sharing their work because, round here, writing isn’t what you do; people who think they’re too old or too young to apply; people who are working hard and have so many commitments they can’t drop a few hours to do what they’d love to be doing. New Writing North is there for people like us. They want to help and support us, nurture our talent, show us the door and even nudge it open a bit. Northern Writers Awards are for people at all stages of their career and from all backgrounds; that includes me and you.
What you do with all that is up to you but don’t think you’re excluded, you’re not. So go to a roadshow, look at the website and look at the different categories, read the application form. What are your answers to their questions? Think hard, keep thinking. The more you think the clearer things will become. When you’re ready, fill it in.
Kate’s debut collection with Penned in the Margins, The Girl who Forgot How to Walk, is available online now.