I won the East Lothian Poetry category in the Tyne & Esk Writers ‘Writer of the Year’ awards tonight. It’s the second time I’ve won this category, and the second time I’ve been pipped at the post for the overall title Writer of the Year. To be totally frank though (and when am I anything else?) I didn’t expect to win that this year, as I told DunbarJane on our way to the Brunton Theatre. The poem is complex, multi-layered, ironic – post-modern if you like – and I’m happy to have written it, but I didn’t think it would win. The award went to a spare, pared-down, elegant and thoughtful short story by Alan McKay, which I liked very much, although my fellow Dunbar group member Ken Wilson was a worthy runner-up in his category – I wouldn’t have liked to choose between them. The runner-up in the East Lothian poetry category was Judith Stewart, whose chapbook Something Strange I’m publishing next year. I am very pleased and surprised to have won the Poetry Award, and delighted that the work of all the prize-winners has been published in a little booklet tonight. I’m even more delighted that the poetry judge – Stuart Kelly – drew comparisons between my writing technique in this poem and that of Edwin Morgan. I can definitely live with that. Anyway, now that it’s published and ‘out there’, here’s the poem – see what you think:
A short history of Xi’an
The Great Walls of Chang’an once divided
outsider from insider, barbarian from citizen.
No more. We stroll along the broad rampart
between parapets, peer down into smoggy city,
take grey photos with phones. A tall T’ang warrior
dawdles to the guardhouse, shiny breastplate
of moulded resin, helmet crowned with red nylon plumes.
In a side temple at the Great Goose Pagoda
I make three fearless bows to the Buddha. A little man
sidles in, looks both ways before kneeling.
He would have been all right, I believe, even if observed,
and he’s surely better for performing right actions.
Some varieties of experience must be undertaken,
not just observed. In the evening news comes
of a new feathered dinosaur from Liaoning Province,
but this is not a novelty. That is how birds became.
Copyright Colin Will 2009