Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Costa-shortlisted collection Sunshine has been shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award alongside collections by Jay Bernard, Will Eaves, Salena Godden, Harry Man, Hollie McNish and Caroline Smith.
The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, presented annually by the Poetry Society since 2009, celebrates the "outstanding contributions made by poets to our cultural life, acknowledging the possibilities of poetry both on the page and beyond". The £5,000 prize is donated by Carol Ann Duffy, funded from the annual honorarium the Poet Laureate traditionally receives from the Queen.
The shortlist for the 2016 award is “one of the bravest, most exciting yet”, according to the judges.
Lee-Houghton's Sunshine (Penned in the Margins) 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". Joining Lee-Houghton on the shortlist is Jay Bernard's The Red and Yellow Nothing (Ink Sweat & Tears Press), a pamphlet-length collection of poems produced after winning the IS&T/Café Writers Poetry Pamphlet Commission competition. The "beautifully paced" poems are an inquiry into the idea of blackness in Europe before it became synonymous with a "less romantic history".
Eaves is shortlisted for his "accomplished" collection The Inevitable Gift Shop (CB Editions), an "intriguing, complex and revealing mixture of prose and poetry". Also shortlisted is Salena Godden for "LIVEwire" (Nymphs & Thugs), a poetry album performed, recorded and produced by Godden herself. It is a collection of live and studio recordings, festival and theatre archives and brand new work. 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.”
Also shortlisted is Harry Man's Finders Keepers (Sidekick Books) is described as a poetic field guide to Britain’s vanishing wildlife. “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”, the judges said.
Hollie McNish has been shortlisted for her collection Nobody Told Me (Blackfriars), a collection of McNish's diary entries which document parenthood and address love, sex, feeding, gender, ice cream, race, commercialism and finding secret places to scream every once in a while. According to the judges, “this collection breaks new ground reporting from the front line 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.”
Rounding out the shortlist is Caroline Smith's The Immigration Handbook (Seren), 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". Smith, who worked as the asylum caseworker for a London MP, humanises the immigration problem by introducing us to the people who are affected. The Immigration Handbook is “an important and unsentimental collection which humanises and individualises refugees without inappropriate occupation of another voice".
The judges for the prize are poets Jo Bell and Bernard O’Donoghue and singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams.
Williams said: “I felt anxiously underqualified at being asked to judge the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. It soon became a mass undertaking of carrying books from tour to studio. But the wealth of joy and excitement in these worlds, as well as the sheer variety and beauty, was like having new lives poured into me. I feel very proud of the scope of the shortlist, which came after joyous discussions with the other judges about what hit us hardest and why. I am so honoured to be part of this process and thankful for all the new work that I have read that sits inside me now.”
The final winner will be revealed at an awards ceremony at the Savile Club, Mayfair, London on Wednesday 29th March 2017. The winners of The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition will also be announced at the ceremony.