We are delighted to be able to announce the winners of the Christopher Smart Poetry Prize, judged by the respected British poet Mel Pryor. Here is her report below; the winners will be offered contracts and can choose to accept publication and their cash prizes:
Christopher Smart Judge’s Report
It was a huge pleasure to read the shortlisted entries for the Christopher Smart prize and I discovered many potential winners. The sculpted lyricism, precision, and restrained eroticism of Katherine Fallon’s collection Goldstar haunted me over several readings, and Goldstar is the prize’s runner up.
Uche Ogbuji’s collection Ńchéfù Road caught my attention on first reading and didn’t disappoint on further readings. “Run your languages this way; I want all your words/ And their secrets, pick locks to your treasure chest;” sings the poem “Run it!” and this desire for “words” and “their secrets” brings to mind Pablo Neruda: You can say anything you want, alright, but it’s the words that sing, they soar and descend…I bow to them…I cling to them, I run them down…I love words so much…The unexpected ones…The ones I wait for greedily or stalk until, suddenly, they drop…Vowels I love…They glitter like coloured stones, they leap like silver fish…Everything exists in the word.
Ńchéfù Road delights in words and in language. “Ńchéfù” is the Igbo word for “amnesia, forgetfulness,” and the collection is both a remembrance of the narrator’s past, as far as memory allows it, and a coming to terms with a heritage marked by violence and displacement. Igbo allusions and folklore and words (the Igbo word “ényí” for “elephant,” we learn, is a visual but not an aural rhyme of the Igbo word “ényì” for “friend”) sit comfortably among resonances of canonical English poetry.
Derek Walcott says he never separated the writing of poetry from prayer, and this collection opens with a poem/prayer like an incantation:
She pressed the message against flattened sole of my right foot
She may have loosed her clutch control of Ụ̀mụ̀ézèàlàíhú
But she has gained dominion worldwide with her seed on trade wind
She warned me never to skulk the bush paths at night alone
I heard her and marked for turf by train, plane and motocar
She warned me never to neglect my barns in laziness
I heard her and mastered the earthless crop of abstract symbols
She warned: never leave your children near fire or deep water
I heard her and nurtured them in purple mountaineering
"I think, my son, you have quite confused my meanings", she says
Any moralizing feels more playfully affectionate and benevolent than didactic, and the unexpected juxtapositions, unobtrusive humour, seductive sounds, musicality and line energy suggest the multiplicity of perception at work in this wonderful, exuberant collection. Of the many collections I read as part of the judging process, I am delighted to declare Ńchéfù Road the winner of the Christopher Smart poetry prize.
Winner of the 2019 Smart Prize!
Our Runner-up winner!