A book described by one critic as eavesdropping “on America and a racism that has never gone away” has won the top award at the 2015 Forward prizes for poetry.
Claudia Rankine has already won the National Book Critics Circle award in the US for Citizen: An American Lyric. On Monday night at a ceremony in London she was named winner of the Forward prize for best collection.
Citizen was described by the jury as a “powerful book for our time”. The chair of judges, AL Kennedy, added: “This is writing we can recommend with real urgency and joy. It’s a stylistically daring poetic project about the dehumanisation of those deemed outsiders ‐ we found it exhilarating and genuinely transformative.”
Kennedy said she and other judges had individually “pressed this book on others with real fervour. It will, we know, raise questions about the nature, purpose and importance of poetry.” Citizen is published as poetry but some have described as more of a lyric essay.
Kate Kellaway, reviewing in the Observer, wrote: “[Rankine’s] achievement is to have created a bold work that occupies its own space powerfully, an unsettled hybrid – her writing on the hard shoulder of prose. She eavesdrops on America and a racism that has never gone away.”
Citizen includes extracts from documentary film scripts, screengrabs of Zinedine Zidane headbutting Marco Materazzi at the 2006 World Cup, JMW Turner’s painting The Slave Ship and an essay on Venus Williams.
Rankine, who was born in Jamaica and now lives in California, teaching at the University of Southern California, wins £10,000.
Two other winners at the awards, now in their 24th year, were Mona Arshi, who won the £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection, and Clare Harman, who won the £1,000 prize for best single poem.
Arshi drew on her 10 years as a human rights lawyer – including her representation of the right-to-die campaigner Diane Pretty – for her debut collection Small Hands. The jury praised the collection for its “imagination, sensuality and beguiling playfulness”.
Harman won for a poem first published in the TLS, The Mighty Hudson, a biographical sketch of a strongman who overreaches himself.
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