Forget the sweet showers of Chaucer’s April; October is the month when most poets go on pilgrimages, as they either tour the UK to celebrate National Poetry Day – today, October 6 – or head for London to collect one of the Forward prizes (aka the ‘Bardic bookers’). At last night’s gathering at Somerset House, the Best Collection prize, worth £10,000, went to John Burnside for ‘Black Cat Bone’; the Best First Collection prize (£5,000) went to Rachael Boast for ‘Sidereal’; and the Best Single Poem prize (£1,000), as chosen by the judges (chaired this year by former poet laureate Andrew Motion) was awarded to R F Langley, who died at the beginning of this year, for ‘To a Nightingale’.
There are many better ways to enjoy poetry than learning the works of Keats by rote, and National Poetry Day has brought them all out of London’s woodwork. Here are 5 that we love the sound of.
Bang Said The Gun (every Thursday to October 27) is ‘stand up poetry for people who don’t like poetry’, but presumably people who do like poetry will also enjoy it. Joe Dunthorne and Ian McMillan have both performed in the past, and each week you could win a spot among the next big names in the Open Mic Spot.
Farrago National Poetry Day SLAM! (Thursday October 6), hosted by John Paul O’Neill, is a competition open to anybody, and there’s no need to fear rejection, as every poet wins a prize. This special line-up features Jade Anouka, Abraham Gibson, Amy McAllister, Rachel Pantechnicon and Niall Spooner-Harvey, plus debuts from previous winners Ollie Brown & Siam Hurlock.
Carol Ann Duffy reads from her new collection, The Bees, at Wimbledon Bookfest (Thursday 6 October). It’s her first collection since being made Poet Laureate, and includes commissioned works alongside moving personal pieces. Not all of them are about bees.
Paul McGrane’s Poetry Pub Quiz (Thursday October 6) is the ideal way to unwind after the excitement of National Poetry Day Live at the Southbank. It’s free to enter and will contain mostly managable questions, with a few tricky numbers for the experts. The Poetry Cafe will keep the bar open in case you think beer will help you remember the answers.
Words & Music in the Woods (Thursday October 6, 7.30pm) is a regular open mic for poetry and song held at the charming Queens Wood Cafe, hosted by Alan Wolfson. Performers get in free and there’s a bar, refreshments and plenty of trees to provide inspiration.
For info and to hear the Forward Prize podcast – featuring readings by shortlisted authors, see nationalpoetryday.co.uk