Over the summer I more or less went totally offline from Facebook and also to a large degree my emails. The reason was an overload of work that had to be completed by a strict deadline. Since it was all computer based work I either got home and carried on or I just switched off the computer altogether to relax. As a result I missed a couple of emails from the Bridport Prize. Luckily they are very persistent (or have plenty of experience in chasing up missing contestants). As a result I got a voice mail message on my phone one day from the Bridport Prize telling me I had a won a prize. I have entered a few years running and got shortlisted in 2014, so to win anything was amazing. I rang back and got confirmation, however I was asked not to share the news except with family and close friends. As I was at work at the time I had to share the news with someone and so our Head of English got regaled with the news. Her first question was could she see the poem? and there was a problem, I couldn’t remember which poem or poems I had sent.
That evening I hunted through emails and other possible means of sending the poem to discover which poem had won. Eventually I discovered that I had been very organized and had stored a word document containing the poem on my computer in a folder called Bridport Prize. I surprised myself to discover it was a poem that I had entered without much hope. It had received very little editing after writing, it was also a poem that more or less wrote itself and was far from my usual poetical content. If it hadn’t won a prize and thus been brought back to my attention I believe I would have forgotten about it altogether (cue the embarrassed looking emoticon).
Over the next few weeks the Bridport Prize contacted me to check how I wanted the poem laid out in their anthology and I received an invite by post to the prize giving lunch on Saturday 1th of October. My very supportive wife Naomi agreed to accompany me on the day and I began to look for accommodation. I found a couple of B and B’s in the area, then stumbled across a cottage for only a few pounds more. As a result I stayed in Puncknowle, Dorset for a long weekend, as we had two more rooms than we needed my parents also came to stay with us. We traveled up on the Friday evening to make it easier on the Saturday.
Saturday morning we set out with plenty of time to spare only to discover the first of the things we wish we had known. Bridport has a market on a Saturday morning, a very popular and interesting market. As a result parking was extremely difficult to find. I wish I had known to leave much more time. We drove a round and around Bridport as time diminished and eventually found a space. We hurried to the Art Centre where I was presented with a badge to wear which said Ben Johnson, Highly Commended Poetry. We then proceeded upstairs for drinks and to mingle. For those who know me well, mingling is not my thing, but the organizers of the event did their very best to integrate me. As a result I was introduced to Patience Agbabi who judged the competition and Mark Pajak the first prize winner (who I have to say wrote the most outstanding poem, a deserving winner).
After the socialising we went down for the prize giving lunch. Naomi and I shared a table with John Wheeler, another Highly Commended poet who was a performance poet from Kent, Nick Ziebland who was the new Chairman of the Bridport Art Centre and Lissa Brooks and Rachel Maggs, both of whom had read through and shortlisted the entries for the Novel awards. At this point I learned the second thing I wish I had known previously, that Puncknowle is pronounced Punnel.
The whole afternoon was very slickly organised and we were treated to readings from the top 3 entries in the Short Story, Flash Fiction and Poetry Section, plus selections from the Novel winners. The quality was so high that time passed quickly and before we knew it the event was at a close. As we got ready to leave it was apparent that the brilliant sunny morning had given way to a cloudburst. Before Naomi and I dashed from the Art Center I paused to buy Patience Agbabi’s new book ‘Telling Tales’, a retelling of Chaucer (and well worth reading). Then we dived through the doors for the nearest bookshop, which was stocked with the most beautiful old books. After browsing for a few minutes I realised our parking time of 4 hours was almost up and we plunged back into the rain to head home.
We then spent two more days around the area and wondered why we hadn’t come here before, Bridport and it’s harbour at West Bay are well worth a visit. The surrounding area is also stunning, Sunday we visited Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical gardens which were good, however during October in the evenings they have a candle lit trail which we returned for and thoroughly enjoyed. Various trees and other features were highlighted by spotlights and the whole path was lined by candle lit lanterns.
Winning a place in the Bridport Prize was one thing, but visiting Bridport was something else entirely. I’m now determined to visit again as soon as possible.