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Blog: The Poet Laureate Of Peterborough

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I headed to my ancient homeland of Peterborough on Sunday, to take part in the Peterborough Poet Laureate competition. I'd first been alerted to the existence of this post earlier on in the year when the post holder for 2012, Mr Simon Stabler, contacted me and we collaborated on a SONG. It all sounded rather interesting so I investigated further, entered THIS year's competition, and got invited to take part in the finals!

I was met at Peterborough station, as I have been SO many times over the decades, by The Parents, and we ZOOMED off to Orton Goldhay where it was all occurring. Whizzing along the Parkways of Peterborough reminded me of the MILLIONS of times I've sat in a car around these roads, all of which have grown to look EXACTLY the same. It's a bit weird really - when the city was turned into a New Town huge buckets of CA$H were spent building the parkway system which links all the new estates and villages. The Council planted trees all along them, which is very nice, but has led to all the roads becoming IDENTICAL. Wherever you go it feels like you're driving through the same weirdly wide road through very tidy FORESTS, interrupted at frequent intervals by ROUNDABOUTS. When you exit from one of these roundabouts you find yourself in an EERILY FAMILIAR housing estate, which you may or may not have ever visited before. I'm sure there must be people living in houses they don't actually own, but have ended up in CONFUSED.

ANYWAY we arrived at the Bushfields Academy (which looked from behind like a PRISON) and found our way in to a LOVELY big theatre where the competition was being held. I met Mr Stabler and we sat down to enjoy the EVENT.

The first half was for the winners of the John Clare Poetry Competition. I'd entered this too, little realising that it was a HUGE global competition that had had over 400 entries - the top three entrants in the under 12s, 12-17 and adult competitions had all come to read out their poems and receive their prizes, and they'd travelled from all over the country to be there. I didn't feel so bad not to get through to the finals when I found that out, or when I heard the some of the ones that HAD one, which were dead good.

Benjamin Zephaniah, one of the judges, spoke then, talking about how he'd changed his minds about poetry competitions. He'd previously said he wanted no part of them, but had recently changed his mind, realising they were a good way to get people WRITING and INTERESTED in writing. He quoted a poem which said something like "Most people aren't interested in most poetry, because most poetry isn't interested in most people" which certainly rang true to a lot of my experiences, not just with poetry but ALL the arts.

Then we were into the Poet Laureate competition - there were eight of us in the final, though two people mysteriously didn't turn up (perhaps they were lost on the Parkways?). Each contestant came on, said hello, read their poem, and then Simon asked them what they'd do if they became poet laureate. It was around this point that I began to feel uneasy. Earlier on in the week The Lines In My Stanza had asked me WHY I wanted to be Poet Laureate of Peterborough, and I had to admit that it was mostly so that i could SHOW OFF. I had ideas to write poems ABOUT events, and to maybe put these all together into some kind of SHOW or ALBUM, but the showing off was still my main motivation. She then pointed out that I'd have to DO loads of things in Peterborough to live up to the role, in a year when I'm ALSO doing the finals of my degree.

The more I thought about it, and the more I watched my fellow contestants, the more I thought maybe it would be best if I DIDN'T win! Still, I gave it my best shot - I read out The Peterborough All-Saints Wide Game Team (group B) as a POEM, and when asked why I wanted the role said I'd like to SHOW OFF. I thought it best to be honest! I did however then EXPAND upon this theme by saying I'd like to sing songs of Peterborough, so people didn't just say to me "Oh, I went past there on a train once". There are, after all, enough songs about New York and London!

The judges went away to JUDGE while a previous poet did some poems and also spoke about HIS experiences, and I felt like even more of a fraud - here were people who really wanted to DO POETRY and LIVED in the area, unlike me who lived in London and, if I'm totally honest, would much rather write songs instead. When they announced the winner as someone else I was GENUINELY PLEASED, especially as he seemed VERY VERY HAPPY about it, read another poem about Peterborough, and then called for people to join him in a renaissance of writing about our hometown. Hoorah!

As we left I spoke to various people associated with this fine event, to thank them for letting me come, and heard a whisper that, in the end, I'd come SECOND. I later realised that this was EXTREMELY APT as a result, as that's one of the main bits of the SONG, but at the time I most felt HAPPY - i was relieved not to have won, but I wouldn't have liked to have come LAST!

posted 25/9/2013 by MJ Hibbett

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