Words by Justine Chamberlain
The annual Rosamond Prize concluded on Saturday at a free concert at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester. An audience of almost a hundred people listened to performances of talented musicians from the school perform poems by current Masters and PhD students from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
Poets from internationally famous Manchester Writing School, and composers from the world renowned RNCM have been collaborating since February in this annual competition that links the two schools separated by a single road – Rosamond Street. The award was set up to give the composers the opportunity to work with living poets, and to enlighten poets to opportunities around music and poetry. The prize has been running for seven years and has formed successful collaborations that exceed the limits of the competition. The Rosamond Prize is only open to current MMU poets and RNCM composers, and runs annually following a ‘speed-dating’ session between poets and composers.
Three judges, including MMU’s award winning poet Michael Symmons Roberts, were unanimous in their choice of winning piece. An Intervention was a collaboration between poet Frances Malaney and composer Richard Evans, and performed by cellist Sarah Gait. The music and poem were well matched, with the dark poem and frightening cello solo creating a shadowy atmosphere. Talented Gait spoke Malaney’s poem between dramatic bursts of Evans’s music. The poem was a narrative about a nestling falling from a tree and, on being touched by the narrator, staring frankly in her eyes and demanding to live. The dramatic music enhanced the haunting words, reminding the listener of the inevitability of death, even when fiercely fought. Malaney reacted with disbelief and said that it was “unbelievable” that her collaboration with Evans had won, putting much of the emphasis of the win on Gait’s performance of Evans’s music. Composer and poet each win £100.
The runner up split the judges, and so two sets of runners up were chosen for the first time, due to being “at vastly opposite ends of the spectrum.” Runners up were poet (and Humanity Hallows writer) Justine Chamberlain and composer Aled Smith’s Utopia for Addicts, performed by pianist Greta Gasser and soprano Jenny Carson; and poet Daniel Ryder and composer Matt Shervey’s The Mid-West, performed by Shervey at the piano and soprano Sarah Foubert. Although both performed by pianists and sopranos, both the poems and music were indeed very different in feel and performance.
BBC Radio 4 were on hand to record the performances as part of a documentary Michael Symmons Roberts is working on about the history of poets and musicians working together. The documentary is due to be broadcast on Radio 4 in June and will include the Rosamond Prize. Roberts is one of the founders of the competition as well as a judge, and is instrumental in encouraging the poets to push themselves into exploring music.