John O’Donoghue reviews the first anthology of Creative Future’s award winning writers.
I write this on the day the Man Booker Prize is announced. It’s the time for ‘Posh Bingo’ again. But perhaps a new prize is based on more socially useful criteria.
Creative Future’s literary awards seeks to recognise and reward marginalised writers. In their introduction to the prizewinners’ anthology The Spark, editors Dominique De-Light and Simon Powell define ‘marginalised’ as those who are disabled, have experienced mental health problems, substance misuse, homelessness, domestic abuse, long-term unemployment, or who have been a refugee, an offender, or an ex-offender. You might not find too many with those kinds of experience on the Booker shortlist.
The anthology is a modest, well-produced booklet of 42 pages, with an introduction; contributions from established writers Lemn Sissay and Ros Barber; and the prizewinning pieces themselves, divided into Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Highly Commended, and Commended, 20 in total from 18 writers (Dolly Sen and Sue Kent get two pieces each). A mixture of poetry and prose with only a few of the prose contributions going on to a second page. I was struck by The Spark’s range of subject matter.
Take the two Platinum Award winners, Sarah Walker and Moray Sanders. Both pieces – My Father, a poem; and The Spark, a short prose vignette respectively – explore the theme of childhood. Sanders’ piece is about a village firework display. She captures the wonder of a small child reacting to the magic of Roman Candles and rockets: ‘I was seven and three quarters when I stared at the shrieking jaws of hell and saw the stretching hands of heaven and the spark that started the universe.’ The apocalyptic exaggeration gets right into a child’s imagination. Contrast this wonderment and innocence with Walker’s poem, which begins: ‘My dearest father spews out bitter words to me.’ The poem continues in similarly direct language to contextualise the father, his upbringing in Palestine, the need to set forth not just his story but the author’s. Here are two pieces, both powerful in their different ways, that set the tone for much of what follows.
Take Cathy Bryant’s poem ‘I Want One’. Like Moray Sanders she sets up expectations in the reader only to subvert them. Wheelchairs are not often the most glamorous subject matter for poets. But here a small girl ‘…dragged along by/ her mother, her little legs reluctant’ sees a boy in a wheelchair, a ‘sparking chariot’ as Bryant has it. ‘I want one!’ she says, and the negative connotations of wheelchairs are suddenly overturned. Like Moray Sanders’ vignette this is a subtle piece, the tilted perspectives suddenly aligning in unexpected ways by the end of the poem.
Jarred McGinnis plays a similar game with the reader in ‘What Was The Spark?’ This flash fiction tells of a date where James comes to meets the folks, his wheelchair a source of awkwardness until he’s brought up the ramp at the back of the house. But James is not the only character in the story who’s disabled. Sara, his date, has brother who is on dialysis and introduces the two men to one another.
McGinnis ends the piece with everything up in the air, so that in just over a page we’re taken into a world we think we’re familiar with, only for – again – that familiarity to suddenly to shift as the writer shuffles the cups and the elements of the story move into a new pattern.
There’s not room in this short review to mention every contributor, as much as I would like to, but I was particularly impressed with Tom Jayston waking up in a graveyard, Alasdair Watt encountering his doppelganger, Penny Pepper’s story about a golden pen, David Paton’s life story in three quatrains so tight they’re dovetailed, Peter Jordan’s flash about being in an earthquake, and Dolly Sen’s Lithium Sun.
Next year the Man Booker Prize will accept entries by American writers. Will British and Commonwealth writers be ‘marginalised’ as a result. They’re going to have some competition in a different direction. I reckon Creative Future have found writers we’re all going to hear a lot more from. Here’s one prize the players of ‘Posh Bingo’ might want to sit up and take notice of.
You can purchase a copy of ‘The Spark‘ for £2.99 as an e-book by following this link or in hard copy for £4.99 via Legend Press website (under Kingston University Press tab). Alternatively send a cheque for £4.99 per book + £2 p&p (up to 3 books) made payable to ‘Creative Future’ to Creative Future, Community Base, 113 Queens Road, Brighton BN1 3XG, stating how many copies you would like.