Lifting the veil on poetry
Patrick Errington talks about his Emerging Writers Award win and helping his students find their voice and community.
Dr Patrick Errington, an Early Career Teaching and Research Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh, has won the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers (Poetry) from the Writers’ Trust of Canada.
Established in memory of writer Bronwen Wallace, the $10,000 prize is given for outstanding works of unpublished poetry. There is also an award for short fiction.
In awarding the prize to Patrick for his collection “If Fire, Then Bird”, the judges praised his “sonorous, sensory-rich language” and noted how his poems “move” and “surprise”.
We talked to Patrick about how he helps students find their own poetic language, and how community is key to being a successful writer.
Lurking in language
“There are infinite ways to make a good poem”, says Patrick. “I leave it to my students to constantly show me new ones!”
“For me, I always keep in the back of my mind Shelley’s notion that poetic language ‘lift[s] the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar’. Lots of others have thought something similar - Jack Spicer and Viktor Shklovsky, for example”.
“It’s less about making language ‘surprising’ or ‘sonorous’ or ‘sensory-rich’ for its own sake, but rather finding ways to make it just surprising enough and in the right way that it can resuscitate those real, tangible aspects of experience that more and more often get smoothed over in our instantaneous, digital-driven world”.
“More often than not those aspects can be found lurking in language itself, in metaphors, turns of phrase – if, you know, you turn them just right!”
Community is key
Bronwen Wallace felt that writers should have more opportunities for greater recognition early in their careers. The Writers’ Trust award in her memory is given to a writer who has published in a literary magazine or anthology, but has not yet been published in book form.
Asked how he prepares students for the realities of being a writer, such as seeking opportunities to have their work published, Patrick says “community is, I think, key - these days maybe more than ever. That’s something I really hope our [MSc in Creative Writing] programme helps to develop, simply by bringing so many talented, dedicated writers together, and by giving opportunities to perform work together and collaborate, like in producing the student anthology "From Arthur’s Seat" (if you haven’t seen this years’, check it out!).”
“Publishing is a whirlwind, with new opportunities and prizes popping up every single day. It’s fabulous – it means ever more spaces to showcase new voices, particularly those that have long and often been overlooked. But it also means no one person has any hope of having anything resembling to a complete hold on it. Which is why having a community of writers who are always on the lookout, always supporting each other is invaluable.”
“Also, with more writers than ever trying to get work published, rejection is just a fact of the business, and having a close (physically or digitally) group of peers, teachers, cheerleaders who are able to commiserate with you and remind you of the worth of your work – that’s, as far as I know, the only way to keep going. Prizes and publications are enormously validating, of course, when they come. But most of us need to weather a lot of rejection to get there, and a good group of supporters is the only way to do that.”
Winning awards is enormously validating - I know you’re not supposed to say so, but it is. Any time you learn that your work has resonated with someone is extraordinary. But, honestly, I think the best part of the prize was being able to go to Canada to meet this years’ finalists and those from the past two years. It was so generous of the Writers' Trust of Canada to make that happen. It goes back to what I said about community – any chance to expand my community of friends, teachers, students (many are all three) is a gift. And any organisation, like the Writers’ Trust, the UK’s Poetry Society, the Scottish Book Trust, who make opportunities to bring writers together - there’s no thanking them enough.
Patrick will be reading from his award-winning poetry collection at a number of events in Edinburgh this summer, including with Medha Singh and Daphné Lecoeur at 50 George Square in collaboration with Berfrois, Interpret Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Salon, and at Lovecrumbs. Keep an eye on Twitter for details.
Are you interested in Creative Writing at LLC?
Based in the first UNESCO World City of Literature, our one-year, full-time taught masters programme is tailored towards your practice in either poetry of fiction. The programme provides lots of opportunities to share your work, including "From Arthur’s Seat" and a range of writing awards. We also offer a PhD in Creative Writing.