Poets' angel is a man of plain words

WILLIAM SIEGHART seems an unlikely hero for British poets. The fast-talking London businessman, whose pounds 10,000 prize for the best new work by leading and emerging poets will be awarded tomorrow, derives his wealth from the publication of 'idiot guides' to modern commerce and technology, rendering in simple terms the jargon of computer instructions and bank pamphlets.

Having demystified the microchip, Sieghart has set out to demystify the Muse. This, he says, is behind his sponsorship of the prize. Three winners have been selected by a panel of literati (Stephen Spender, Margaret Drabble, Roger McGough, John Bayley and Mick Imlah).

The prize is a resurrection of the Guinness award for poetry which ended in 1961. Sieghart believes the popular appetite for poetry waned in the Sixties through pop music and the 'passive entertainment' of television. 'Now there is a reaction. In a time of poverty, sexual abuse and Aids, people want hard truths spoken plainly. The real thought behind the Forward Poetry Prize is to bring poetry out of 'Poetry Corner'; to make people feel they can buy an anthology, find a poet who makes them think about something, and then buy his or her works.'

Among the publications of his Soho publishing company is Helpware, a magazine produced in partnership with IBM for those struggling with operating instructions. 'We spend a lot of time demystifying and turning things into proper English.'

What Sieghart declines to demystify is the extent of his fortune. It has been rumoured that, at 32, he is a millionaire. 'I'm not going to discuss that.' He once complained that a magazine article about him 'didn't represent the real me', but in conversation he fills few gaps, revealing, however, that as a child he enjoyed Tennyson, took part in poetry readings 'because, I suppose, I have a reasonably good voice', and later found the world to be 'full of closet poetry-lovers'. Despite reports linking him romantically with the likes of Lady Thatcher's daughter, Carol, he remains a bachelor. 'I'm still single,' is all he would say.

Sieghart and Neil Mendoza, his partner in Forward Publishing, began in 1986 when 'companies didn't understand the essential point that the publications they send out have to compete with what people pay for'.

After a successful transformation of a Rank Xerox company magazine, his skills attracted other corporations, among them Abbey National, Barclays Bank and the ITV companies. Two years ago, he said: 'All in all I am pleased with life.'

That was the year he published a small volume of poetry by Dominic Sasse (The Jousting Meadow), a Sussex writer whom Sieghart met on a Belgian bus and who died in last September's plane crash at Kathmandu. Sieghart likes to quote Sasse's best-known poem, A Song For The Synod:

Our Father who fashioned

the dew to tremble,

the wind to stir,

the sea to rise and fall,

forgive us our trespasses,

as we roam these urban pastures.

Our Father who lent us breath,

sight and song,

yet also fearful passion,

protect us from undue emotion,

flatter not our vanity,

for simple is our human nature.

Our Father who art in exile,

hallowed once was your name,

now cited in vain,

the cause of sectarian murder.

You have led us into Temptation

and left us unable to resist.

The fact that Sieghart's Soho company edits and publishes poetry may seem incongruous in the corporate world from which he makes most of his money. But his business clients appear to like it. The Midland Bank, for example, has agreed to donate copies of The Forward Book of Poetry (containing tomorrow's prize-winners) to British schools.

(Photograph omitted)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Tutor required for Level 3 Workskills

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Eduction are...

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week