by Natasha Bershadsky: 2020 judge, Poetry and Publisher’s Awards
In my regular life, I read Sappho and Hesiod. I rarely think of the quality of ancient Greek poetry, my time is consumed by attempts to gain at least some understanding of it. So the prospect of reading hundreds of poetic pamphlets in modern English and choosing the best of them felt like a slightly unsettling departure from the everyday. They arrived, and I curiously took the plunge. I expected to feel alarm at the quantity; instead, I felt awe. Voice after voice allowed me a glimpse of the centre of somebody’s life, with its thoughts of love, death, birth, loss, lust, memories of childhood, experiences of sickness, journeys without return and a search of home. Some voices called to me stronger: their intonations kept sounding in my mind. Those connections felt perplexingly personal at times — why did a certain line, loud or quiet, make me listen closely? But from my experience of research I know that a line that for a mysterious reason stops me in my tracks is an excellent place to start exploring: usually these are the nodes in a tight web of semantic connections. So I took a note of those voices. And then came the surprise and joy of meeting other judges. The experience of finding that the reactions that had seemed so peculiar to myself were shared by others felt similar to realizing that someone else dreamed an exceptionally vivid dream that I had. Even more thrilling was the shared work of “dream interpretation:” uncovering together with other judges the beautiful systems of meanings that made a particular pamphlet so compelling.