Andrew McMillan has become the first poet to win the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award with his “elegantly poised and intimate” collection of poems, Physical (Jonathan Cape).
The win gives Cape its second victory in a row, after Colin Barrett's short story collection Young Skins took the prize in 2014.
McMillan's collection is said to explore the anxieties of modern man, “reaching out from the experiences of gay men wrestling with their emotions and each others’ bodies to chart the gaps between appearance and reality in contemporary culture,” the Guardian said.
Guardian books editor, Claire Armistead said it was “only the second time a poet has even made the shortlist”. She said: “It’s a thrilling development for us as poetry so rarely breaks through in generalist prizes… McMillan’s breaktaking collection shows that good poetry can and does still enlarge, replenish and delight.
“It is wonderful that a collection so tightly focused on masculinity and gay love could have such a wide appeal, across age and gender. It surprised us all with the best sort of ambush, emerging from an extremely strong and vibrant shortlist as the unanimously agreed winner.”
One of the judges, broadcaster Emily Maitlis, said McMillan’s collection was “curiously conversational – which I loved – and macho, a word I use advisedly, but they are genuinely a celebration of the muscular male”.
Writing in "Guardian Review", McMillan explained that all he ever hoped for his poetry was that it should “live sincerely in the world and take everything that happened, turn it, distil it, and give it back to the reader – in the hopes it might move them, or be ‘useful’”.
Also shortlisted were Diane Cook's collection of short stories Man v Nature (Oneworld), Max Porter's Grief is the Thing With Feathers (Faber), Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen (ONE/Pushkin Press), Peter Pomerantsev's Nothing is True and Everything is Possible (Faber) and Sara Taylor's The Shore (William Heinemann).
Joining Maitlis on the judging panel were poet Kei Miller, historian Tom Holland, critic Alex Clark and Waterstones' event planner, Stuart Broom, who was the voice of the five reading groups, from Edinburgh, Leeds, Lewis, Manchester and London, which voted for the prize shortlist.