This 2018, the Women Poets’ Prize is honoring its first set of victors. The new literary prize commemorates beloved UK editor Rebecca Swift, who prematurely died of cancer in April 2017. A poet herself, Swift was dedicated to helping writers tackle the problem of the dreaded slush pile— the mound of un-agented manuscripts that most publishers don’t have the resources to read through. In 1996, she founded The Literary Consultancy (TLC), a group providing editorial feedback to developing writers. Throughout her life, she also performed charitable work with the goal of providing mental healthcare to underprivileged women. The Women Poets’ Prize celebrates Swift’s life, as well as her undying passion for women and poetry. Here are its first three recipients.
1. Claire Collison
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A breast cancer survivor, Claire Collison writes about the relationship between her mastectomy and her womanhood. For her piece Truth Is Beauty, she often performs with her one remaining breast exposed. Poets themselves, contest judges Moniza Alvi, Fiona Sampson, and Sarah Howe tout Collison’s work as “mesmerising, with unusual and subtle shifts, sharp, grounded and achieved with remarkable naturalness.” In her poem ‘Keeping Borzoi,’ Collison writes:
That was the summer you learned
there was a point to eyelashes,
and that having cancer didn’t
make you nice — wasn’t enough
of a thing in common.
2. Nina Mingya Powles
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An original voice from both New Zealand and China, Nina Mingya Powles explores her biracial identity and the bias of white, male poetry: “being mixed race and half Chinese Malaysian, it has been a particular focus for me to discover other mixed race poets, writers and artists… I am trying to find a new canon of my own.” Here’s an excerpt from Powles’ ‘Styrofoam Love Poem,’ published 2018:
my skin gets its shine from maggi noodle seasoning packets / golden fairy dust that glows when touching water / fluorescent lines around the edge of / a girlhood seen through sheets of rainbow plastic / chemical green authentic ramen flavour / special purple packaged pho / mama’s instant hokkien mee / dollar fifty flaming hearts / hands in the shape of a bowl to carry this cup / of burning liquid salt and foam / mouthful of a yellow winter morning / you shouldn’t eat this shit it gives you cancer / melts your stomach lining / 99% of all this plastic comes from China / if we consume it all maybe we’ll never die
3. Anita Pati
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Anita Pati is a poet and freelance journalist, whose poetry has great “linguistic and sonic quirk.” Her nonfiction journalism can be found in many household-name publications, including The Guardian and Cosmopolitan. Her linguistic originality is on display in this excerpt from ‘Dodo Provocateur,’ her prizewinning poem:
Europeans hunted you mercilessly,
because you beakies wouldn’t be doves or albatross.
Those whitish irises probably grotted and balled and seized,
black undertail coverts jutting at strumpet-starved sailors,
marooned on Mauritius, exotic, just not Bideford, Perth or Poole.
Why gobble pebbles big as nutmegs to temper your guts,
and prove fresh meat for rusky sailors, declaring you foul?
The Women Poets’ Prize is free to enter, true to Swift’s vision for female writers. In addition to the varied professional development opportunities, winning poets receive £1,000 and the opportunity for exposure. Maybe you’ve found a new poet whose work you can explore— and maybe, you’ve found an opportunity for your own writing.
Featured Image Via The Denver Post