“Ten books that sound clear and compelling voices of the moment” make up this year’s shortlist for the TS Eliot prize for poetry.
Announcing this year’s contenders for £25,000 prize, writer and chair of judges Glyn Maxwell said: “Poetry styles are as disparate as we’ve ever known them, and the wider world as threatened and bewildered as any of us can remember … these are the 10 voices we think should enter the stage and be heard in the spotlight, changing the story.”
Maxwell and his fellow judges, the poets Caroline Bird and Zaffar Kunial, read 177 collections submitted by British and Irish publishers, a record number, before agreeing on the final 10. None of the shortlisted poets has won before, although two have been shortlisted: Michael Symmons Roberts and Selima Hill.
Symmons Roberts is a professor of poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, and has previously won the Forward prize and the Costa Book award. His shortlisted collection, Ransom, contains three sequences – one set in occupied Paris, one an elegy for his father, and one a meditation on gratitude – which explore ideas of freedom and limitation.
New Yorker poetry editor Kevin Young, a finalist for the National Book award in 2003, has been shortlisted for his book Stones. The collection explores loss and his connection to southern Louisiana, his father’s home. “When we’re low / we roll / to the corner, near-empties / in our hands,” he writes.
Raymond Antrobus has been selected for All the Names Given, which builds on the themes of d/Deafness and race that appeared in his Ted Hughes award-winning The Perseverance. This 2019 collection also won Antrobus the Sunday Times young writer of the year award and the Rathbones Folio prize, making him the first ever poet to win the award, which is for literature of all genres. Two of his poems were added to the GCSE syllabus in 2019. In one poem from All the Names Given, Plantation Paint, Antrobus refers to the 19th-century painting Plantation Burial by John Antrobus, asking “Tell me if I’m closer / to the white painter / with my name than I am / to the black preacher, / his hands wide to the sky, / the mahogany rot / of heaven”.
Two of the shortlisted poets, Kayo Chingonyi and Selima Hill, have already had their collections shortlisted for the Forward prize. Zambian-born Chingonyi’s A Blood Condition looks at the African nation’s turbulent history as well as the origin of HIV in poems that the Observer’s Kate Kellaway called “quietly powerful”.
Hill’s Men Who Feed Pigeons reflects on the various relationships women have with men. The 75-year-old poet has published 20 collections since 1984, and has been shortlisted for all the major British poetry awards.
Founder of the national youth slam poetry championships SLAMbassadors UK, Joelle Taylor, has been chosen for C+nto & Othered Poems, which is about sexuality, gender and the butch counterculture. The shortlist is completed with poet and disability rights activist Daniel Sluman’s single window, Jack Underwood’s A Year in the New Life, about everything from imminent societal collapse to the complexities of masculinity, Hannah Lowe’s The Kids, which is informed by the decade the author spent teaching in a London sixth form and Victoria Kennefick’s debut collection Eat or We Both Starve, which looks at how to live with the past without becoming consumed by it.
The award, which is run by the TS Eliot Foundation, was won last year by Bhanu Kapil for her collection How to Wash a Heart.
The winner of the 2021 prize will be unveiled in January.
The shortlist in full:
All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus (Picador)
A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi (Chatto & Windus)
Men Who Feed Pigeons by Selima Hill (Bloodaxe)
Eat or We Both Starve by Victoria Kennefick (Carcanet)
The Kids by Hannah Lowe (Bloodaxe)
Ransom by Michael Symmons Roberts (Cape Poetry)
single window by Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press)
C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor (The Westbourne Press)
A Year in the New Life by Jack Underwood (Faber)
Stones by Kevin Young (Cape Poetry)