Ten years ago, I entered my first poetry competition, without the slightest hope of being placed. Like most writers, I am not all that good at self promotion, and entering any kind of writing competition seems to fall into that category. And this seems a bit strange, even to me, because that first one? I won.
You could have knocked me down with a feather when I opened the mail that day and the letter fell out, complete with a substantial cheque.
It had been an international poetry prize, judged by the French poet and philosopher, Michel François. It was the linguistic and esoteric connection that had first attracted my attention. And suddenly I could, to my intense surprise, call myself an ‘award winning poet’… and that felt odd. Even odder in French, where the term for the prize-winner is lauréat, a word with a slightly different aura when applied to poets in English.
That was ten years ago. I’m still not comfortable with self-promotion, so although I steeled myself to mention the award in my bio, I am far happier promoting the work of others than my own.
For some reason, I checked the website of that poetry prize the other day, wondering what this year’s dates would be, only to find that the award will not be running this year. I found something else though, which once again took me by surprise. They had published a bilingual anthology of some of the prize-winning poems, edited by Michel François and including some of his own unpublished work.
I must have missed it when it was first released. I could not remember having been notified, but there had been a lot going on in my life at the time… so I assumed I was not one of the chosen poets. I felt I should obtain a copy even so, for winning that prize had given me the confidence to write.
It duly arrived and fell open at a bookmarked page. Whether by accident or design, the bookmark had been inserted at the page that held my poem. And that was a wonderful surprise. But the thing that made me really smile was a simple thing… the book is a hardback. And for some reason that made it suddenly seem real in some illogical and indefinable way.
I suppose it is a hangover from childhood, when all serious writers were published in hardback. These days, there is so much excellent writing published primarily in paerback…especially with the advent of print-on-demand services… that such a perception is completely out of date. But it made me wonder how many of us shy away, not only from mentioning our achievements, but giving ourselves any credit for them?
We downplay so much of what we do, because we are taught that it is not the done thing to blow one’s own trumpet. The trouble is that no-one else can blow it for us if they don’t know we have one to blow. There is, admittedly, a fine line between confidently stating your achievements and bragging about them… and that never goes down well.
Not all achievements come with honours, cheques or recognition. Most, in fact, are quite ‘ordinary’…but no less extraordinary for that. The parent who juggles home, work and children, giving all of themselves to what they do. The person who smiles in spite of chronic illness. The person who cheerfully puts their own dreams on hold for the needs of others. The quiet effort and ungrudging sacrifices that go into every single day are all achievements worthy of praise, and although we might not shout about them from the rooftops, we should, at the very least, recognise when we have done a good job.
It need not be a big thing… sometimes it is the small things that give us the encouragement we need. Sometimes it takes no more than a ‘thank you’ or a smile to boost our confidence in what we do. In my case, it took just three words… available in hardback.