It has been an unqualified delight, even if it is mildly absurd: I have been chairing the judges for this year’s Forward Prizes for poetry, wallowing in some quite extraordinary writing. It has been like gorging on champagne truffles every day. We are nearly there. Winners are emerging. But the absurd aspect is that everybody being judged is already a fine poet, with much to say and fine technical skill; so, winnowing down to ‘winners’ relies on personal prejudice and chance mood on one particular day. That’s horribly unfair and I think all the judges feel it. So why have such a prize? Because the hullabaloo and coverage will draw people to buy poetry books, just as all those beach ‘summer reading’ lists, however predictable, send people back into bookshops. Poetry was the great British art, and still is. So if you are buying for the sun lounger, please, please include some new poetry: look at our shortlists, or ask the bookstore for advice. The entries are written in a huge range of ways about a vast range of subjects; from religion to Brexit, to violence in Africa. What connects it? The intensity of the writing — modern poetry is shots of espresso to the frothy white lattes of fiction, or a rich, reduced bouillon to the slop of watery canteen gravy. Drink up.
Who will be the next Tory leader? I keep asking the senior contenders over breakfast after the show or at those now notorious summer parties. And they all say the same thing: she will stay for a couple of years and then it will be somebody we haven’t thought of yet. It’s already too late, they say, for MPs in their 50s and 60s. Predicting politics these days is like juggling greased goldfish… but I pass this on for what it’s worth.
We haven’t begun to understand the phenomenon of online abuse.