The Arvon Prize Giving.

Ever heard this one?
Question:   What’s the difference between a poet and a pizza? Answer:  You can feed a family of four on a pizza. Not true for the winner of The Arvon Poetry Prize this evening. Unless the pizza costs £5,000.

So it was that I didn’t want to go, but I went all the same. I was tired. It’s the most prestigious prize in poetry in England, possibly Britain. Maybe there are  poetry competitions offering more money but  prestige?

What is the Arvon Foundation?  Around the country are a series of lush houses – think farmhouses set in the wilds of British countryside. They are often donated by writers to, or bought by,  the Arvon Foundation and used to support developing writers.  The houses include those of the late John Osborne Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plaith. This is not exclusively the case though they are always in the most rugged and inspirational surroundings. The food is great the accommodation is perfect. Thee place is always warm with toasty log fires and central heating. Between  1989 and now I’ve taught ten courses,  ive of them closed courses for schools, and five of them open to the public. I’m doing two next year.  One closed and one for the public.

But then there’s this prize too. The Arvon Foundation Poetry Prize which I meself judged  in 1994  It’s being held at a venue that I’ve always wanted to visit.  It’s called The Menier
Chocolate Factory.  And if you are coming in to London from the south  you will often see above the parapets the sign “Meniers Chocolate Factory”. It’s a long sign and as the train tracks past I think the film City of Lost Children.  The first person I see as I enter is David Hunter. He who was running the Ted Hughes home with wife Moira Dooley twenty years ago, on the day that I walked in through the wild winds of west Yorkshire with the words teach me I’m ready  tattooed on my forehead. . “I still remember it he says”

The conversation around the room was great. Met David Pease whom I remember from about 19 years ago in Sothebys and Ted Hughes was there. “You’ve changed” said Mr Pease. I bloody hope so I think. I started so young that shaving was a show rather than an act. Good to meet the British Council People who are sending me off to India Wayhey! ttp://

 The event is taking place in the gallery of  Menier. ”. I chat to the artist who works at the south bank and emailed me to come to the exhibition opening two days earlier. Fortuitous as it is that I’m here. I like stuff like that. I buy the book for which she did the artwork and ask her to sign the book. She’s clearly very very  talented. The book is called Tingo and it is doing well. Described on the cover by Stephen Fry, as “Delicious”.

 “The winner” announces a judge  from the small but perfectly formed stage. There are three judges, stood equidistant giving the stage something of the star trek transporter room about it “the winner is Sian Hughes   I know that name ofcourse I do A black flowing dress  swishes through the crowd towards the stage like oil through rocks. She has short blonde hair and as she passes me, she looks at me with glee, as if to say “Lemn – it’s me”.  And it was a reflection of mine “Sian it’s you”. That’s how to say congratulations, look at you, haven’t seen you for ages, there ya go, that’s us, good on you and ahh bless – all in one look

She read her poem with beauty and grace. .  I’ve known Sian for a few years more – she hasn’t changed and she must have changed. And neither have I.  She gently says her goodbyes and swims in the warm glow home to Oxford, her children, her teaching. What a wonderful surprise. Fleur Adcock remains in the corner arms folded a poet to the last. Some people don’t look like poets some people do. Fleur looks like a poet and so does john Agard and Grace Nichols and so too does Sian Hughes

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