Last October I went to Derby Guildhall Theatre to see Feelgood Theatre’s touring production of Not About Heroes. Stephen MacDonald’s play is set during the time Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were both at Craiglockhart hospital during World War One, and is a touching and intelligent piece of theatre. There are so many things I could say about the production, not least about the performances of Simon Jenkins as Owen and Alasdair Craig as Sassoon. Perhaps the highest praise I can offer though is that I went to see it a second time at The Strand Theatre in London where the tour ended. The emotional intensity is something that has continued to haunt me.
The play had travelled to Craiglockhart itself, Ors in France where Wilfred died, and stopped off at Shrewsbury, Ripon, Scarborough and other places significant in the life of our most well known war poet. Feelgood are an ambitious and adventurous production company and from what I have come to know of its founder and Artistic Director, Caroline Clegg, it is unsurprising that they should have taken on the challenges that come with an international tour. Including a poetry competition and a series of workshops to run alongside this production in order to provide a ‘lasting legacy’ is only more testament to their commitment to artistic, cultural and community values which guide their creative output.
In between my theatre trips to Derby and London, I decided that I would have a go at entering the competition myself. Sadly the workshop in Derby had been cancelled and so I was left to my own devices to create something worthy of entering the competition which was an attempt to ‘bring together the military and civilian community to talk about the ramifications of conflict and build bridges of understanding.’ Given that I rarely write poetry these days any poem I wrote was not, I felt, not likely to be placed. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Sometime after Christmas I received an email inviting me as a finalist in the competition to a party to celebrate twenty years of Feelgood’s work and take part in the Whispers of War Poetry Competition final. I was utterly delighted to have come so far and tripped off to Manchester to a star-studded event with a light heart, happy to take part in something so glamorous. Writing is such a private occupation much of the time that to be able to join with other writers for a celebration was a joy in itself.
The evening included music, drama and an inspiring history of Feelgood as well as the award ceremony itself. I was stunned to have won my category award. With a beautiful crystal trophy and a cash prize it would be hard not to be pleased, but having my poem read aloud by actor Peter Clifford was probably the crowning moment of the evening for me. Suddenly my words came away from the page and became something that wasn’t about me anymore. The poem existed in its own right. That may be a thought to be explored in another blog post though.
The ceremony was concluded with the Lord Mayor of Manchester and the Mayor of Ors presenting the overall winner with another trophy. I wasn’t quite sure what to do when I heard the name of my poem read out again and found out that the overall winner was me. There were a lot of entrants with a huge amount to say about war and its legacy and I am delighted to say that all the finalists’ poems can be read at the Not About Heroes website in an online anthology.