"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
T.S. Eliot's inspiring legacy lives on among the literary world. His honourable talents were abundant, as he mastered vast elements of the publishing sphere and paved the way for creative, curious minds to follow suit in building poetic prose.
In 1993, the Poetry Book Society established the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and over the last twenty-eight years, it has served as one of the UK's most prestigious awards of its kind. Propelling new talent to the fore with 'the best collection of new verse', we saw the likes of 2019's winner Ocean Vuong, with the acclaimed essay collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds. He later proceeded to publish his debut novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.
This renowned award holds a winner’s prize of £20,000 and £1,500 for each shortlisted collection. No wonder it has been defined as the most coveted award in poetry. With that in mind, let us explore the shortlist of 2021 and see what the critics think about the well-deserved winning collection, How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil.
The full runner-up shortlist is as follows:
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Faber & Faber)
Deformations by Sasha Dugdale (Carcanet Press)
Shine, Darling by Ella Frears (Offord Road Books)
RENDANG by Will Harris (Granta Poetry)
Love Minus Love by Wayne Holloway-Smith (Bloodaxe Books)
How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil (Pavilion Poetry)
Life Without Air by Daisy Lafarge (Granta Poetry)
How the Hell Are You by Glyn Maxwell (Picador Poetry)
Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae (Corsair Poetry)
The Martian’s Regress by JO Morgan (Cape Poetry)
With several literary awards already under her belt, not least the Windham Campbell Prize for Poetry in 2020, Kapil’s literary prowess across both poetry and prose, continues to shock and impress readers internationally. Widely considered to be the most prestigious UK poetry prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry is yet another string to add to Kapil’s ever-expanding bow.
This collection, as well as its place among a shortlist brimming with radical and powerful poetry collections, is not only well deserved, but also imperative. Kapil is innovative and boundary-defying, both within the important experiences and topics that her works explore and in her manipulation of language itself. The arresting nature of this collection is further enhanced through her use of second person narrative, creating a sense of accountability and discomfort within the reader – ‘you’ get to be a spectator in this reading journey. Such a level of moral and political interrogation through poetry, is truly remarkable.
Creating a discourse between an immigrant guest and their citizen host, Kapil’s poetry uses the physical body to challenge ideas of identity, inclusion and empathy. Through a domestic lens, Kapil’s writing interrogates the wider power dynamics between an immigrant guest and her host. As her speaker details how “It’s exhausting to be a guest / In somebody else’s house”, Kapil sets forth making us question whether, in life and society more generally, we are the guest or indeed the houseowner. Either way, we are left with a sense of duty, to be mindful and critical of this power dynamic. Kapil’s work has and continues to inspire and we at the Publishing Post are excited to read more.
Throughout history, we have seen poetry slowly become a less-favoured form of literature. It has sadly deteriorated from being one of the earliest art forms of literary expression, to being entirely removed from the GCSE curriculum for being seen today as ‘futile’. Therefore, poetry prizes such as the T.S. Eliot Prize are evermore important, perpetuating the recognition of such a beautiful art form.
Equally, although prize money is not the be-all and end-all, it is valuable and necessary to reward winners with generous monetary sums. Most writers, including poets, struggle to make a living from their art and often have to take on multiple jobs to manage the cost of 21st century life. This can unfortunately lead to their writing suffering from lack of time to spare, as well as a diminished motivation. Therefore, the T.S. Eliot prize of £20,000 could cover the costs of a whole year devoted to poetry writing – doesn’t that sound magical?
Whatever Kapil decides to use the prize money for, the prestige of the prize title is something that will never run dry. We are excited to see what she comes up with next, with the inspiration and recognition adrenaline running high.