A personal message from the Founder of the Awards
I was born in Greece, the place where the word poetry was born. From a very early age, poetry and I have been good companions. When I came to London for my tertiary education, I brought my childhood companion with me. The bookshelves of my student digs were full of my poetry books from home, carefully stacked next to my history and philosophy university texts, my grandmother’s copy of the bible and two icons that belonged to my family for hundreds of years. I still remember certain long nights when, studying thorny historical issues of the 19th century, I used to break for an injection of the timeless solace of poetry. To this day, the contents of those student shelves form the nucleus of my library and I hope they will be with me till the end of my journey.
The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets came out of my conviction of the positive influence good poetry can have on the human soul and my desire to help poets publicise their skills in an easy to access medium, which has the potential to become a work of literary as well as visual fine art: the pamphlet. With this in mind I have created awards for poetry, publishing and illustration to encourage all artistic aspects of the pamphlet. Recognizing the major role played by inspiration in writing a poem I have also created as a prize a two-week exposure for the winner to the landscape and antiquities of Greece and the opportunity to interact with Greek and other poets and first class minds from Harvard University. The most recent award, for Celtic Poetry, came out of my studying the historical past of the British Isles. One of the ancient British languages, the Britonic or Celtic, is still widely spoken in Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Northern Ireland. With this award I wanted to encourage poetry creation in this ancient language that has survived against all the odds and is still spoken by several million people.
I was fortunate that, in realising these awards, I had the support of many people and I would like to mention a few of them by name and thank them publicly for supporting my idea and helping me make it a reality.
First and foremost, I would like to thank my fellow Trustees of the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, Prof. Sir Christopher White and Mr Noel Annesley, who supported my idea for Pamphlet Awards and encouraged me to pursue it.
My mentor for these awards was the late Tessa Ransford OBE, Scottish poet and translator, founder and first president of the Scottish Poetry Library and of the Callum Macdonald Memorial Awards, both of which have been supported by our foundation, the latter for almost 20 years. I thank her for opening my eyes to the great possibilities of the pamphlet and for being a great friend and support when I started these Awards in London.
Another Scot, Richard Price, Head of Contemporary British Collections of the British Library, helped me establish the Awards at the British Library, a collaboration that still continues. A distinguished poet himself, Richard immediately understood what I was trying to achieve. I am enormously grateful to him for his constant support.
Dr Pamela Woof, a notable Wordsworth scholar, was also a great support to me and instrumental in effecting the collaboration of the Wordsworth Trust with these awards. Pamela and her late husband Robert Woof, who was its director, were friends of my late husband Michael Marks and I am thankful to them both for their great work on British poetry and especially the poetry of the Romantic period, which eventually led to Pamela’s support for these awards. The Wordsworth Trust also provides one of the judges.
I was very fortunate to collaborate with the TLS through my friend Peter Stothard, who was then its editor and since then this outstanding literary magazine has been our media partner, also providing one of our judges. I am enormously grateful to Peter for his support and his friendship.
Prof. Gregory Nagy is one of the most erudite and creative personalities it has been my good fortune to meet. We started our collaboration about 20 years ago when, as Harvard Professor of the Classics, specialising in Homer and the head of the Harvard Centre for Hellenic Studies, Greg asked for my help in establishing an outpost of the Centre in Greece. This culminated in the creation of the Michael Marks Poets in Residence programme, which consists of our two poetry winners each year spending a couple of weeks in Greece attached to the Harvard Centre of Hellenic Studies in Nafplion, near the ancient sites of Mycenae and Epidaurus. I am enormously grateful to Prof. Nagy for his friendship, for understanding what I wanted to achieve and for lending his unswerving support to these awards. From this year onwards, Harvard University has also agreed to provide a judge.
Finally, my sincere thanks go to Ian Cooke at the British Library, Michael McGregor at the Wordsworth Trust, Zoie Lafis at CHS Washington and Matina Goga and Christos Giannopoulos at the CHS Greece, the TLS, our current administrator Lindsey Holland and our previous administrator, Andrew Forster, the Poetry Book Society, the many judges who gave us their time and experience and everyone else who has helped so much in the establishment and success of these awards.
I believe that the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets are offering something unusual but in their small way useful to the preservation and promotion of humanist values, the values that give each human life importance, meaning, direction and purpose and I hope to be able to support them for many years to come.
Marina, Lady Marks PhD OMKM
Chairperson, The Michael Marks Charitable Trust