Salena Godden and Hollie McNish on Ted Hughes award shortlist
Spoken word stars Hollie McNish and Salena Godden are on the shortlist for this year’s Ted Hughes award for new work in poetry, along with Jay Bernard, Will Eaves, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Harry Man, and Caroline Smith.
Jay Bernard’s The Red and Yellow Nothing is a pamphlet-length collection of poems produced after winning the IS&T/Café Writers Poetry Pamphlet Commission competition. The poems – paired with occasional images and framed as a prequel to the Middle Dutch poem ‘Morien’, which tells the story of a Moorish son of a knight of the round table – are an inquiry into the idea of blackness in Europe before it became synonymous with a less romantic history. Judges Jo Bell, Bernard O’Donoghue,and Kathryn Williams said: “This collection is an adventurous pilgrimage through style and form reclaiming medieval myth. It is beautifully paced with a musical momentum and demands to be revisited.”
Will Eaves’s The Inevitable Gift Shop is described as a “memoir by other means”, lassoing consciousness, memory, desire, literature, illness, flora and fauna, and problems with tortoises and cable ties. Produced by CB Editions, it was a Poetry Book Society special commendation. The judges said: “This accomplished collection is an original compilation of different kinds of writing and thinking. It is clever, witty and philosophical, a subtle long playing book which unfolds with every reading.”
Salena Godden’s LIVEwire is a poetry album, performed, recorded and produced by Salena Godden. It is a collection of live and studio recordings, festival and theatre archives and brand new work. It features live material from literary childhood memoir Springfield Road (Unbound), Fishing in The Aftermath – Poems 1994-2014 (Burning Eye), Under The Pier (Nasty Little Press) and The Good Immigrant (Unbound). The judges said: “This CD captures the best of a live presence – at turns moving, powerful and unflinching – which is hard for an award to recognise. It provides a gateway to poetry that is too easily dismissed as ‘spoken word’, but is an essential part of our poetry culture.”
Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Sunshine is a full-length collection of poems which take an unflinching first-hand look at abuse, addiction and mental health, with a dark sense of surreal humour. It was also shortlisted for the Costa poetry award. The judges said: “This collection throws a full beam on the underbelly of life. Melissa Lee-Houghton writes with a fierce working class anger producing poetry which is explicit and uncompromising.”
Harry Man’s Finders Keepers is described as a poetic field guide to Britain’s vanishing wildlife, and contains poems and colour illustrations that are the culmination of a year-long project with illustrator Sophie Gainsley. The judges said: “This collection is a symbiotic relationship between poetry and illustration. Image and text inventively flow in and out of each other, playing with form and colour. There is an integrity to the poetry which is both charming and precious, making you look again at the environment and your own back garden.”
Hollie McNish’s Nobody Told Me is a collection of “diary” poems and stories, written sitting on her daughter’s bedroom floor, in the gaps between cries, screams and laughs, on the loo, in the car and anywhere else she can find the time and space. It documents parenthood and addressing all the things she felt she couldn’t talk about at the time, including love, sex, feeding, gender, ice cream, race, commercialism and finding secret places to scream every once in a while. The judges said: “This collection breaks new ground reporting from the frontline of motherhood. Poetry and prose mix well creating an internal rhythm that is conversational and honest. Hollie McNish deals with big issues without flinching from inadequacies and failings whilst reaching out to new poetry readers with her accessible style.”
Caroline Smith’s The Immigration Handbook is a full-length collection of poems that allow us to meet refugees as individuals that the news stories only speak of as numbers: characters who have experienced lives fraught with violence and tragedy, and who are dealing with labyrinthine government bureaucracies. Caroline Smith worked as the asylum caseworker for a London MP. The judges said: “An important and unsentimental collection which humanises and individualises refugees without inappropriate occupation of another voice.”
The £5,000 Ted Hughes prize, presented annually by the Poetry Society since 2009, is donated by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and is funded from the annual honorarium she traditionally receives from the Queen. The final winner will be revealed at an awards ceremony at the Savile Club, Mayfair, London on Wednesday 29 March 2017. The winners of the Poetry Society's National Poetry Competition will also be announced at the ceremony.
ILLUSTRATION: CROW © ESTATE OF LEONARD BASKIN