Poet Roger Robinson has won the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize for his “profoundly moving” A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press), which includes a sequence of poems reflecting on the Grenfell Tower fire.
The annual prize rewards the best work of fiction, non-fiction or work of poetry that best evokes a sense of place. A Portable Paradise, which also won the T S Eliot Prize last year, was named the winner on 4th May across the RSL's media channels.
The poet said: “Winning the RSL Ondaatje Prize is great on many levels. Gaining wider recognition for the political issues that are raised in A Portable Paradise is one of the most important things for me, alongside more people reading about the struggles of black communities in Britain which hopefully creates some deeper resonating empathy.”
A writer and educator who has taught and performed worldwide, Robinson was chosen by Decibel as one of 50 writers who have influenced the black British writing canon.
He is also co-founder of both Spoke Lab and the international writing collective Malika’s Kitchen, alongside being the lead vocalist and lyricist for King Midas Sound.
His work was chosen from a shortlist featuring Robert Macfarlane's Underland (Hamish Hamilton), Elif Shafak's 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Viking), Jumoke Verissimo's debut A Small Silence (Cassava Republic), Surge by Jay Bernard (Chatto & Windus) and Tishani Doshi's Small Days and Nights (Bloomsbury Circus).
Judge Peter Frankopan branded the winner “a fabulous and ingenious work that seethes in its condemnation of injustices but sparkles in its tenderness and subtlety and revels in celebration at the things that make us all unique”.
Fellow judge Pascale Petit said: “Roger Robinson’s profoundly moving book manages to balance anger and love, rage and craft. Every poem surprises with its imagery, emotional intensity and lyric power, whether dealing with Grenfell, 'Windrush', or a son’s difficult birth, which is also a tribute to a Jamaican nurse. This is a healing book, enabling us to conjure our own portable paradises.”