Sunday 5 April, 2020

Poet raised in Trinidad wins prestigious T.S Eliot Prize for poetry

Roger Robinson author photo by Naomi Woddis

Roger Robinson author photo by Naomi Woddis

A British dub poet who was raised in Trinidad has won the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize for his book A Portable Paradise.

Poet Roger Robinson won the £25,000 award which was announced on January 13 at a ceremony in London.

Nine other books were shortlisted for the prize, the most valuable in UK poetry, and considered one of the literary world’s highest-profile honours.

Robinson is only the second Caribbean writer to win the prize, following Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, who won in 2011 for his book White Egrets.

A release from Bocas Lit Fest said Robinson's book. published by Peepal Tree Press, ranges in subject from family and ancestry to the perils of making art, but has been most celebrated for a sequence of poems addressing London’s tragic Grenfell Tower fire.

“There was a strong sense of humanity to the book,” said the chair of the prize judges, poet John Burnside.

“It came down to how moving the personal poems were and how relatable and accessible his poetry about his family was, alongside the more political parts about black history, Grenfell and the NHS. There is a wonderful balance of the public and the personal in this collection. It is passionate and sociologically engaged….

“Poets have always written about injustices like racism and misogyny, because poetry is a great medium for that, as it engages all of our faculties, our abilities as humans, our empathies. When people are overtaken about rationality, they forget humanity and pity. Poetry reminds us of those traits again.”

Born in London to Trinidadian parents, Robinson was raised in Trinidad. He returned to Britain at age 19 and since then has divided his time between the two countries — calling himself “a British resident with a Trini sensibility.”

Beginning as a spoken word performer in the 1990s, he was chosen as a British Next Generation poet in 1999, and published his first collection, Suckle, in 2009. His book The Butterfly Hotel was longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in 2014.

“Roger Robinson’s win is a triumph not just for him but for Caribbean poetry,” says Marina Salandy-Brown, founder and director of the Bocas Lit Fest. “As well as for our partner Peepal Tree Press, the most prolific publisher of Caribbean poets over the past three decades. This is a time of great opportunity for our writers.”

Robinson is scheduled to participate in the 2020 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in May.

The T.S. Eliot Prize is the latest in a series of recent international successes for Trinidad-born authors. In November 2019, writer Ian Williams was named the winner of Canada’s Giller Prize, that country’s most prestigious award for fiction, for his novel Reproduction. (The Giller Prize was previously won by Trinidad-born Andre Alexis in 2015.)

Also in 2019, Claire Adam won the Desmond Elliot Prize — “the UK’s most prestigious award for first-time novelists” — for Golden Child. In 2016, Vahni Capildeo was named winner of the Forward Prize for Poetry for her book Measures of Expatriation, and in 2017 and 2018 poets Richard Georges and Shivanee Ramlochan were shortlisted for the Forward Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.

According to Bocas, Caribbean writers have taken home many other coveted prizes in the UK and USA in the last four to five years

The 2020 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, this country’s annual literary festival is set to take place May 1 t- 3 and The Bocas Lit Fest which runs it will officially launch its plans for its 10th year with an ‘open house’ event on January 22 at The Writers Centre, 14 Alcazar Street, St Clair. 

For more info and to register for on-going workshops, visit bocaslitfest.com/writerscentre.

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