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Stand up and spit The alternative to Establishment literary awards like the Forwards and Toilets

IN 1977, Jeff Nuttall wrote: “The aristocracy is always dying. The top of the social tree is always falling away in twigs and powders and leaf-skein.                                 

“It is dying because, having realised ultimate ambition, it has reached ultimate disillusion. The tree grows no further. The upper class has lost its motivation. It has no need to strive. It ceases to strive. It dies perpetually.”

As with every year, poets are already looking to the award and honours that will blossom. I agree the upper classes don’t strive, but they excel at excluding. Earlier this month, poet Niall O’Sullivan noted: “You may think wrestling’s not worth your respect because it’s all fixed but I’ve felt the same about most literary prizes.”
Awards that I do think carry something beyond marketing value are those celebrating potential.

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year, open to any young poet aged 11-17, is always my favourite. The winners read in brand new clothes and there’s always a sulky goth and a gushing mum. As the judges read out the names of 100 nominees from around the world, there are some delightful comedy ones and hilarious mispronunciations.

Also well worth it are the Saboteur Awards, voted for by the public, rather than judged by academics and meeja whizz kids. Voting is no measure of worth, of course, but at least we get to see the desperate hustling on social media.

The awards vary and the categories can be as exciting as RuPaul’s Drag Race. Organiser Claire Trevien says that the Saboteur Awards Festival 2018 will celebrate eight years of Sabotage reviews of independent writing from across the globe and the event will showcase the best experimental and independent literature published or performed in the year and will comprise workshops, panels and performances.

There are 12 prizes on offer, rewarding writers, performers and publishers in categories that do not normally get recognition, such as Best Regular Spoken Word Night or Best Collaborative Work. Nominations open in March.

I asked Claire just how this is different from the Forwards and the Toilets, as we proletarian types refer to the TS Eliot award, and she explains that the awards bring together fiction and poetry, including spoken word, and do not focus on novels or poetry collections but alternative manifestations of literature.

“Unlike traditional awards, this is an opportunity to bring writers and publishers of many different genres and style in the same space. For another, it does not favour a judge-based model, “ she says.

“Instead, both the shortlist and eventual winners are determined by a public vote. Last year, over 4,000 people voted on the shortlist. This makes the awards much more inclusive and gives us an opportunity to hear the tastes of the often silent majority and celebrate a more diverse and exciting contemporary literature.”

There will be several panels alongside the award-giving and celebratory, or commiserative, drinking this year, one of which is #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology, which also features the women behind it.

The panel will be Deborah Alma, Nadia Kingsley and Victoria Bennett, certainly more grassroots and with greater involvement than the ivory towers deign to bestow.

Says Salena “The Power” Godden, “I was honoured and excited to be shortlisted in the 2017 Sabotage awards. The Sabotage reviews and support of my work has been invaluable. They once called me “powerhouse,” which is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my work.

“Sabotage amplify women writers, minority writers, they shine a light to illuminate diverse writing and artists and I enjoy and follow them most loyally.”

And, as Jeff Nuttall said back in 1977, “There are pubs and clubs where wit will start the blood flowing. ‘Some bastard is trying to be clever.’”






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