African Poetry Prize Winner/Armitage’s Desert Island Discs – Poetry News Roundup May 11th

We begin the week here on My Poetic Side with a look at the winner of this year’s African Poetry Prize. We also have a short article about Simon Armitage’s Desert Island Discs interview.

African Poetry Prize 2020

The Egyptian poet Rabha Ashry has been announced as the winner of this year’s African poetry prize. This is fantastic news for the Egyptian poetry world as her win follows last year’s win by fellow Egyptian poet Nadra Mabrouk.

Ashry is a poet based in Chicago who was born in Egypt. She has won the £3000 prize for her challenging verse about exile, living between two languages and diaspora.

The prize is run in collaboration with Brunel University London and was founded in 2012 by Professor Bernardine Evaristo, a joint winner of the Booker Prize in 2019 with Margaret Attwood. Evaristo founded the prize to fill what she felt was a significant gap in the field of African Poetry and an acknowledgement of its existence. The prize is now in its eighth year and is the single largest African poetry prize anywhere in the world.

This year, the quality of the entries was the best that the judging panel has ever received, and included over 1000 entries. The shortlist included poets from Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Botswana, Egypt, Mauritius and Sierra Leone.  Until recently entries from poets in North Africa have been almost non-existent. However, it now seems that one winner has opened the floodgates for more entries from the area.

Entrants must be African poets who have yet to publish a complete collection of poetry. Evaristo said that every year the quality of the entries is raised and selecting a winner from the number of entries that are received is becoming an increasingly difficult task.

Desert Island Discs – Simon Armitage

Speaking on Desert Island Discs yesterday, the UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage talked about how he had felt it was something of a duty to write about the situation now. His latest poem is “Lockdown” and it starts with the line” escape the waking dream of infected fleas”.

Once he got started, he found that the lines flowed quite easily, both the language and the images were lining u to be written into his poem. He believes that as the poet laureate it as his duty to write about both the pandemic and the lockdown. It was a challenge that he needed to take up.

Since he took up the position of poet laureate, he has already written about the moon landing, paid homage to the poet John Keats and also admired the countryside of Cumbria.

He passionately believes that it is important to be hopeful for the future despite the difficulties of the current situation. Of course, he noted that the current, unusually pleasant weather is helping, nature is certainly doing its thing, and this is helping to point towards the possibilities of the future.

During the programme that aired on BBC radio 4, Armitage also said that he was quite glad that he didn’t get the job of poet laureate 10 years ago when his name was first put forward. Although he was a popular choice with the bookies he feels it wasn’t the right time for him.

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