Poetry News

Sandeep Parmar on the Nearly All-White T.S. Eliot Prize Shortlist

By Harriet Staff
Sandeep Parmar

Sandeep Parmar writes at The Guardian about this year's T.S. Eliot Prize shortlist, which is ruefully lacking in diversity. Out of 10 collections, only "the much-acclaimed Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong" is written by a poet of color. 

For those who have championed crucial interventions in poetry publishing, reviewing and prizes, this nearly all-white shortlist cannot help but seem inexplicably naive and regressive.

This year was an exceptionally strong year for British poets of colour, and you would have reasonably expected to see Kayo Chingonyi, Richard Georges, André Naffis-Sahely, Nick Makoha, Nuar Alsadir, or Elizabeth-Jane Burnett here, among several others.

That is not to say that the books featured on the list are in any way undeserving. As one of five judges for the Forward prize for poetry this year, I know firsthand how hard it can be to reach a balanced consensus in spite of one’s own bloody-mindedness about what constitutes lasting literary value. No doubt this shortlist, whittled down by poets Helen Mort, James Lasdun and Bill Herbert from 154 books, was a struggle, and each judge is entitled to their taste. I believe poetry must rise to the collective challenge of our times, not merely be a curio of intimate experience. But in the absence of rigorous critical debate over what poetry must do in our era, we have come to expect rather more from prize judges than expressions of taste. Would, for instance, an ethnically diverse panel have returned a different list? When the markers of success do not reflect British poetry today – the unique challenges BAME voices bring to this cultural moment, to pressing questions of identity, our being in the world – all of us must speak up.

The shortlist, and more on this, at The Guardian.

Originally Published: October 20th, 2017