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The Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize Shortlist Announced

By Ameenah Khan, Caitlin Evans, Emma Carey and Holly Mahoney

The Seamus Heaney Centre recently announced the shortlist for the First Collection Poetry Prize 2021. The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry is located at Queen's University, Belfast and is named after the late Seamus Heaney, recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. The poetry prize is supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies, which is a private foundation that supports various causes in society.

The First Collection Poetry Prize celebrates the work of the Seamus Heaney Centre and honours Heaney himself. It is an award that is presented to a writer whose first, full collection has been published in the preceding year, by a UK or Ireland-based publisher. The winner of the prize receives a grand prize of £5,000. This year's shortlist consists of five collections which include The Station Before by Linda Anderson, Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty, Rose With Harm by Daniel Hardisty, Growlery by Katherine Horrex and Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair. The final winner will be virtually announced during the Seamus Heaney Centre’s annual Poetry Summer School in July 2021. This year, the judging panel includes the incredible Irish poet Elaine Freeney as well as the Seamus Heaney chair, Nick Laird and his colleague Stephen Sexton.

Cannibal was published by Pan Macmillan in the last quarter of 2020 and has since received an onslaught of praise and admiration. Safiya Sinclair’s poetry collection is an expertly and delicately handled body of intertextuality, playing with the likes of Columbus and Shakespeare to explore post-colonial identity. Sinclair’s own identity as a Jamaican woman interacting with white America demonstrates the complex navigation of racial and feminist experience in today’s society. The poetry itself, which made its way confidently onto the shortlist, has been described by many as exquisitely lyrical, oftentimes dark and mythical and unafraid to take the reader in new and unexpected directions.

Pavilion Poetry’s 2020 publication of The Station Before was much anticipated as Linda Anderson’s first poetry collection. Anderson has an academic career as a professor of English and American literature, particularly exploring feminist theory and engaging with poetry collections. Now, through her own poetry, she takes readers through time and space, playfully portraying the punctum in moments of first encounter across voices, time periods and borders. Other themes including memory, fragments, loss and the bizarre, make this debut collection a poetry journey not to be missed and truly deserving of its place on the shortlist.

Another eagerly awaited, debut poetry collection is Rose with Harm by Daniel Hardisty. Published in 2020 by Salt Publishing, this series has been in the works for a decade and is sure to delight his current readers and newbies alike. The collection is a poignant exploration of love and the more difficult moments therein. Be it the beginnings of a promising connection that instead turns astray, or the heart-breaking moments which one can only decipher through prose, Hardisty takes his readers on a compelling, bittersweet journey that is not to be missed.

Carcanet's 2020 Publication is Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty. This poetry collection boasts an impressive variety of compositions like invocations, verse essays and a world that strikes the perfect balance of ancient and modern history. However, at the centre of the collection is her piece 'Dearly Beloved' that she began writing after losing a loved one. “It was my hope to write the mood of elegy rather than an elegy proper.” Inspired by the many great elegists, she spent two years crafting and mastering this poignant piece. With her wide range of prose within this collection, it is no surprise that Arrow makes this year's shortlist.

The final standout in this year’s shortlist is Growlery by Katherine Horrex. This collection demonstrates an interesting and evocative juxtaposition between the natural world and the man-made, the industrial. Pulling at the thread of societal pretence and exposing untruths, Horrex’s collection is impactful in its social commentary in light of Brexit. However, such a description infers a slightly clunky political collection, Horrex’s use of lyricism offers balance and subtlety to this truly accomplished collection. The use of nature prevails as a means of allegorical and metaphorical medium for wider discussions on a society both connected and simultaneously disconnected with one another. Altogether, a very exciting entry into this year’s shortlist.

Celebrating a group of astounding poetic talent, the shortlist not only demonstrates wonderful formal talent, it also highlights important political, social and human concerns. Traversing the worlds of historical discussion, feminist theory, racial experience and the natural vs industrial worlds, this prize leaves few stones unturned. An exciting and promising exploration into budding literary poetic voices that we at The Publishing Post will definitely be keeping an eye on!


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