Sunday, 1 November 2015


Two years ago I won a poetry prize.

Imagine that, after I had been awarded the prize, I had been expected to pay a considerable amount of extra money.  It seems unthinkable doesn't it?  Yet, this is what goes on behind the scenes at prestigious literary awards.  In my innocence I expected that the big names in literary awards - the Costa and The Guardian for example - sponsored literary prizes as feel-good self-promotion or at least to offset tax.  Entry fees, I assumed, helped towards the cost of running a prize.

Yes, there is of course a difference between winning a single poem prize and winning a collection award.  But I was shocked to read about what actually goes on behind the scenes at prestigious poetry book awards in Fiona Moore's post 'Small Publishers and Poetry Prizes' on her Displacement poetry blog this week.  *Please do read it.

Publishers are not only expected to 'hurl numerous free copies into the abyss of prizes, review copies and competitions" (some of the surplus must end up on Amazon I think, so someone is making some money out of them) but also, if a book is shortlisted or wins, several thousand pounds is extorted from already hard-pressed poetry publishers for 'promotional purposes'.  Different awards have different regulations but, as Fiona Moore points out, these rules make if impossible for a lot of small presses to participate, however good their publications.  She also says 'It is sensible to print cheaply ... so the unit cost is small.'  Unfortunately that mitigates against producing beautiful high-quality books, perhaps including illustrations, and entering for them for the big prizes.

I was particularly disillusioned to read that a fee was levied per poet on the Next Generation list of poets (not a prize but an important award).

Then there is the situation where small poetry publishers receive Arts Council grants which help them enter for literary awards run by organisations who receive Arts Council grants.  But, at a time when less and less public money is available, small presses have lost out on grants and either soldier on without them or fold (my own publisher, the much lamented Flambard, closed down when it lost its grant).

I hope the organisers behind the literary prizes listed by Fiona will respond to her comments.  It's also high time that financial accounts for literary prizes were made more transparent.

*  See Fiona Moore's post for 26 October 2015 on her blog

Despite the above CONGRATULATIONS to Claudia Rankine for winning this year's Forward Best Collection Prize for Citizen.

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