Bhanu Kapil wins 2020 TS Eliot Poetry Prize for How to Wash a Heart; judges laud 'formidable' work
How to Wash a Heart explores the relationship between an immigrant guest and a citizen host.
British-Indian poet Bhanu Kapil has won the prestigious TS Eliot Poetry Prize for the year 2020, for her "radical and arresting" collection, How to Wash a Heart, announced the official website of the prize.
"Our shortlist celebrated the ways in which poetry is responding to profound change, and the stylistic freedom that today’s poets have claimed. From this impressive field, we unanimously chose Bhanu Kapil’s How to Wash a Heart as our winner. It is a radical and arresting collection that recalibrates what it’s possible for poetry to achieve," said Lavinia Greenlaw, chair of the judging panel.
How to Wash a Heart explores the relationship between an immigrant guest and a citizen host. The writer, who was born in England currently lives between the UK and US, where she spent 21 years at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, has six books of poetry/prose to her credit, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Schizophrene and Ban en Banlieue. Earlier in 2020, she won the coveted American award, the Windham-Campbell Prize, in the poetry category in recognition of her literary achievements.
“The impact of receiving the Windham-Campbell Prize during a global pandemic is life-changing and life-supporting for myself and my family. I hope that I can use whatever relief or good that comes from having won such an honour to be of service, on-going, to those in more vulnerable situations than my own,” she said at the time.
How to Wash a Heart is her first full-length collection to be published in the UK and is drawn from a performance in London in 2019. It has been praised for using poetry as a mode of interrogation. In a time of increasing hostility against migrants, Kapil demonstrates how survival tunes the guest to its host with devastating intimacy, notes publisher Liverpool University Press, in reference to the work shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.
The TS Eliot Prize, described as the most valuable prize in British poetry and the only major poetry prize judged purely by established poets, comes with a winner’s cheque for GBP 25,000. The shortlisted poets are presented with cheques for GBP 1,500 each.
The 2020 judging panel, which included British Indian poet Mona Arshi, said they were on the lookout for the best new poetry collection written in English and published in the year 2020. "My fellow judges, Mona Arshi, Andrew McMillan and I have been reading books written in a different world, the one before COVID-19 ," Greenlaw had said when the shortlist was announced last year.
“The urgency and vitality of the ten books on this shortlist commanded our attention nonetheless. We were unsettled, captivated and compelled. Poetry is the most resilient, potent, capacious and universal art we have,” she had added. The panel sifted through 153 entries to finalise their shortlist of 10, which included Natalie Diaz for Postcolonial Love Poem; Sasha Dugdale for Deformations; Ella Frears for Shine, Darling; Will Harris for Rendang, Wayne Holloway-Smith for Love Minus Love; Daisy Lafarge for Life Without Air; Glyn Maxwell for How the hell are you; Shane McCrae for Sometimes I Never Suffered, and JO Morgan for The Martian’s Regress.
The prize was inaugurated in 1993 to celebrate the Poetry Book Society’s 40th birthday and honour its founding poet, TS Eliot. It is awarded annually to the author of the best new collection of poetry, published in the UK and Ireland.
— With inputs from the Press Trust of India
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