It was autumn 2010 that I entered The Peterborough Poet Laureate Competition. As the theme that year was Chemistry and it was for the city of Peterborough; I did what I always do and checked the dictionary. It said that Chemistry means "the study of the relationship between elements", so I began by listing all the things that made up Peterborough to me. Then I hit the internet and researched the history of Peterborough and intermingled my elements poetically in chronological order to create a poem that reflected the elements and people that have made Peterborough what it is today.
since school had I personally entered a competition or even read any of
my own poetry to more than one person; so being shortlisted meant I was
jangly bag of nervous excitement in the run up to the final.
had a frantic and fraught journey to Peterborough Library on that
Monday evening. Everything look different in the dark and trying to find
parking with a car full of edgy people certainly helped to distract me.
I dashed into the John Clare Theatre and took my place. Regrettably
none of the speaker’s words really penetrated my stupor until the poetry
began and then the room lit up.
ensued a battle of words and rhyme, of metaphor and simile; each poem
jousting for applause, for approval and most importantly to win. When we
had each read our poems the judges convened in another room to debate
and decide who the winner would be and in the meantime the former, ex
and past Peterborough Poet Laureate’s ably diverted our minds from the
impending doom or delight.
the judges returned and began with the traditional summations of the
difficulty of the task, the high standard of entries, all ten finalists
were no doubt swinging the emotional pendulum of “it’s great to get this
far; to be shortlisted is an honour in itself and swoosh to the other
end to “I want to win; I really, really want it, nothing less will feel
is traditional they read the top there in reverse order and by this
time I had convinced myself that getting third place was more than I
could hope for and in itself would have been tremendous. My name was not
called, my heart sank and my shoulders slumped; it was not going to be
me; it couldn’t be – the other poems and poets were so polished,
professional and word perfect. I didn’t even hear them talking after
that as I drifted off thinking that this poetry malarkey was obviously
not for me. Then I noticed people were looking at me and smiling, their
mouths were moving and sounds of congratulations reached my ears as a
wave of sound washed over me.
was my moment, all my fears, anxieties and doubts melted away and my
head felt like a champagne cork on the point of release. The rest is a
bit of a haze, I read my poem again and the words blurred before me as
tears threatened and fell. It’s very rare in life that you have moments
of conscious actualisation; where you realise that you where you wanted
to be, that what you wished for is now reality.
though it might seem, it was really touching to see myself reflected in
the faces of my two boys and my partner who were in the audience.
Especially when my youngest son had a mock struggle with the Mixy the
outgoing Poet Laureate and then he held aloft the winners' plaque, like a
victor's shield after a battle and declared he was the son of
Peterborough Poet Laureate.
Click here to read: Peterborough Chemistry
many lovely people came and congratulated me, it was during this time
that Vivien from Poets United invited me to their group which runs on
the first Tuesday evening of every month at Peterborough Council for
Voluntary Services. Joining the group was like a home coming, they were
so welcoming. A great group of people who are so appreciative of each
other’s poetry and the themed nights are great at inspiring and creating
impetus for new poems.
January 2011 I was asked to write and perform a poem for The Holocaust
Memorial Service to be held in Cathedral Square on January 27th 2011. It
was a very moving day, beginning with the ceremonial walk from Mayor’s
Suite to the Cathedral Square outdoor ceremony. Every seat taken and
many people standing and for all of us the biting cold transporting us
to the places and people who suffered unimaginable horrors.
poem Unbreakable was a humble tribute to all people who stand up
against tyranny and violence whether that’s in the course of normal life
or in times of war.
Click here to read: Unbreakable
Comic Relief I was asked to compose and perform a poem for the children
of Queens Drive Infant School. The poem was based on the person that
might have wielded the famous Peterborough Museum Bronze Aged Sword
found in the River Nene, which was subsequently stolen, recovered and
returned to the museum.
Click here to read: BAM - Bronze Aged Man
British Red Cross asked me to write a poem for International Day of The
Disappeared. After meeting so many of the volunteers at their
Peterborough offices together and hearing some of the Tracing Service's
stories the poem I ended up writing focused on two stories that haunted
my dreams and continue to move me.
Bainbridge and I agreed that the reading of the poem should have some
deeper symbolic meaning so we Terry and Sophie of "My Green Backyard"
who agreed to our proposal to have a tree planting ceremony and poetry
reading. We had an open invitation which resulted in a lovely group of
people attended, many of whom had direct experience of having lost
reading the poem, a copy was planted beneath one of the two trees and
all those attending the ceremony added the soil to complete the planting
collectively before sharing cake and their own memories with each
other. It was a really special day and I still have my ‘forget me not’
book mark to remind me lest I should forget.
Click here to read: Family Tree
Peterborough Library has been very supportive during my tenure as Poet
Laureate and has encouraged my development as a performer, the highlight
of which was the time I was able to perform with signers for an
audience that included deaf and hearing impaired audience members. It
took a little preparation to ensure it went smoothly and it was a real
privilege to once again present reading challenge awards some of which
were to second language readers which in my book is even more
The signers were a little nervous when I was wielding my sword when performing my poem: ODE TO THE VANQUISHED.pdf
. Lots of people who were quite interested in my sword, it is quite
heavy and one of a pair (in case you were interested). Over my time as
Peterborough Poet Laureate one of the greatest things has been the
opportunity to encourage others to pick up a pen, for the first time or
again. It’s been a real joy to meet so many other poets and to share
mine and their poems with each other.
you would like to commission Nikki to write or perform a poem for your
event please email information including the date and location of the
event to: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Nikki DiGiovanni 2012