With a prize now of 2000 pounds, and running since 2012, the Melita Hume Poetry Prize has become significant in the UK this decade for discovering and supporting emerging excellence - and its previous shortlists have showcased immense talent.
This year's judge, novelist and poet, Colette Sensier (herself once a Hume runner-up), will be delightfully challenged to pick a winner from the 11 shortlisted debut poetry collections, noted below - all poets were 35 years of age or younger, and a citizen or resident of the UK and/or Ireland, at time of entry. Colette Sensier is a Brighton-born, London-based writer whose poetry and prose has been featured in anthologies including Best British Short Stories 2016, Salt Book of Younger Poets, and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam. Her debut collection, Skinless, was runner-up in the 2012 Melita Hume prize and published in 2014.
This is a brilliantly diverse list, not least in terms of poetics and vision. We asked the poets for their biographies and a brief description of their collections, also included below.
1. ALEXANDRA STRNAD – Praga Cantat
Alexandra Strnad read English at the University of Cambridge, and graduated with a Master's in Creative Writing, with Distinction, at the University of Oxford. A dual Czech-British national, she lived in Prague for several years. Her first poetry pamphlet H is for Hadeda was published by Poetry Salzburg, in 2017. Her second poetry pamphlet, Pilgrims, was published by Eyewear in 2018. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Ambit, Oxford Poetry, Tears in The Fence, and Wasafiri. She has also had poems published in various anthologies including; Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual, and Flight: An Anthology Of Poetry In Response To The Refugee Crisis. Alexandra is Poet in Residence at the Carfax Education Group.
Praga Cantat is a journey through the The British Isles, Central Europe, Africa, Asia, and The Middle East, traversing the streets of Prague, Lodi Gardens in Delhi, the Drakensberg, where ‘plateaus sleep quiescent from the Limpopo to the Karoo’, and the pearl diver’s dhows anchored in Arabian waters. It is an examination of heritage and history, the persistent pull of the past on the present, which can both fascinate and disappoint. It is a story of three generations and their travels across the globe, sometimes to the familiar, but more often into the unknown.
2. ARIADNE RADI COR – The Third
Ariadne Radi Cor was born in Trento, Italy. She studied Philosophy in Venice and English at the University of London. An excerpt of her poem L’Italie L’Ondon appeared in Wretched Strangers (Boiler House Press, 2018) and her essay “On receivers, metaphors and postcard” was published in Versopolis Review. Her collages, audio and video poems are available on www.chantillycream.co.uk
The Third, a gesture beyond either/or binaries, includes poems, flash fiction and illustrations. The many ‘I’ of the collection are constructed in places, such as the home, the neighbourhood and the city; in liminal spaces, such as windows, corridors and dreams; and in relationships with people, things, and jobs.
3. BEN WALTER – Self Portrait of Anxiety at Nineteen
Ben Walter is a young emerging writer. He is currently an undergraduate student studying Education with English at Durham University. At the age of nineteen, escaping from his humble village home in Norfolk, Walter truly began to explore the vibrant world of poetry and literature. Which propelled Walter into writing love sonnets for his first love at rainy bus stops in Dublin to later tossing him into the chaos of transcribing his heartbreak and depression in sunny secret gardens at his university campus. Over the course of one year he proceeded to map his growing awareness of his own mental health issues in his work. Expressing himself in experimental spoken word at young writers’ groups hosted in his and his friends’ campus bedrooms. His ill health forced him to take a year away from his studies during which Walter finished the manuscript for his first novel, worked as learning support for young people with mental health/learning difficulties and played psychedelic folk with his band.
Self Portrait of Anxiety at Nineteen is a collection about the nightmare trial of descent into mental illness in front of a backdrop of metamorphosis into alien adulthood. All written during the nineteenth year of my life, my stories and illustrations deal with my slow discovery of my own mental health issues, the throb of addiction and the rise and fall of first love. Poetry presented by various absurd and emotive speakers; some escaping manifestations of the self and some of the many mouth-appendages of a strangled wider societal entity. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I write with imperative passion on the topic as a young male who has been swept down the isolating rapids of that mental current in the hopes of sparking active conversation and understanding on the topic. The collection offers insight into the depressed life but further entertains, with Kafkaesque horror, the death of the credulous child and the awakening of the young adult looking out at a world perhaps more unstable than ever before.
4. BETHANY NOLAN – astronomical twilight
Bethany Nolan was born in Hastings in 1998. Now living in Canterbury, she's in the final year of her Creative and Professional Writing BA. She's previously self-published a short poetry chapbook called LEGENDS.
astronomical twilight is about life, death, and that nebulous patch in between the two. It's also about sunflowers, finding joy in the mundane, and learning to start again.
5. ELENI CAY – Love Algorithm
Eleni Cay is a Slovakian-born poet living in the UK. Her poems were published in three pamphlets by Westbury Arts Centre and Eyewear Publishing. Her most recent poems have appeared in Atticus Review, The Cardiff Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Acumen and Envoi. Eleni is known for her filmpoems, dancepoems and multimedia poetry, which have been screened at international festivals and featured on Button Poetry. In 2018, Eleni’s poem ‘Evergreen Carol’ was shortlisted in the Bedford International Writing Competition; the poem ‘Redemption’ was longlisted in The Cornwall Contemporary Poetry Competition and the poems ‘Ariadne’s Dandelions’ and ‘The Journey Home’ were highly commended in the Poetry Stanza Competition by the Poetry Society, UK.
This collection draws on Eleni’s research about the algorithmic design of modern technologies that she conducted at the University College London between 2017-2018. In the digital medium, the predictability of algorithms and serendipity of love encounters fuse into a paradoxical union. Loss of ‘self’ is never far away but neither is hope for new beginnings. As the scenes shift from London to Paris to Shanghai, the poems intensify the global connections that make love a constant riddle for all mankind.
6. ELLEN VIOLA – The Eel
Ellen Viola was born in London in 1986, where she lives and works. She has a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design from Camberwell College of Art, and a Foundation Degree in Circus Arts from the National Centre for Circus Arts. She is currently studying printmaking.
The Eel is the story of a woman, a mother, a child, and an other. It is told in fragments of text that slip through water. Everything is in flux. We are left to question who exists and who does not; what is a dream and what is not; what is possession and what is loss.
7. EMILY VANDERPLOEG – River Reading
Dr Emily Vanderploeg was born in Aurora, Ontario in 1983. She studied English and Art History at Queen’s University (BA Hons) and Creative Writing at Swansea University (MA, PhD), and works as a teacher and lecturer. Her writing has been published in both the UK and Canada, shortlisted for the Impress Prize, and longlisted for The Poetry’s School’s Primers series and the 2018 Women Poets’ Prize. Emily is a 2019 Literature Wales New Writer’s Bursary Award recipient and Hay Festival Writer at Work. She calls Canada, Hungary, and Wales home, and lives in Swansea.
River Reading is an exploration of lineage and life travelled. A collection in three parts, many of the poems were written as a response to the author’s experience of growing up in a European immigrant family, and then becoming an immigrant herself, in Europe. These poems chart a journey of emotion across waterways: passing through relationships, reflections on death and love, and the importance of place in the author’s search for the meaning of ‘home’.
8. JESSICA MAYHEW – Longship
Jessica Mayhew's début pamphlet, Someone Else's Photograph, was published by Crystal Clear Creators in 2012. She spent a year working in south-east Asia, and during this time wrote a pamphlet, Amok, which was published by Eyewear, London in 2015. Her poetry, fiction and essays have been published in magazines including Ambit, Stand, Staple, Brittle Star, Magma, and the Interdisciplinary Literary Studies Journal. She has also given readings at the Nottingham and Ledbury Poetry Festivals. Jessica currently lives in Hertfordshire. She loves to explore new places, especially with her Transylvanian street dog, Bracken.
Longship: When we were little, my Gran used to tell us to remember that we were Vikings. She came from the Shetland Isles, and told us stories about islands of rock with no trees, the North Sea which drowned the sailors in our family, the old Gods. When she died, my uncle commended her to Valhalla, and her gravestone was carved with a longship. 'Longship' is a collection about family histories, the natural world and how we weave our memories through it. Inspired by the way that Robin Robertson tells myth through his collections, entwined with his own experiences, I wanted to capture moments in Norse mythology that would speak to our own experiences of life. Njord and Skadhi's ill-fated marriage, how Freyja got her necklace, what Odin whispers to the body of his son - these are all stories of imperfect - very human - beings who still fascinate me.
his sea-voice floats, stiff with sprindrift/ I’m still here, come find me.
9. MARACHI NKERE – This Girl and This Boy
Marachi is an analyst, residing in London. She has a Masters degree in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Warwick. She's the author of a lipstick and poetry blog and you can learn more at: http://www.matteandmetalmedia.com
Falling in love and the negative aftermath is unlike any other life experience. It is the process of feeling the human emotion’s full spectrum all at once: love/infatuation coupled with heartbreak to the unbearable regret combined with other internal/external struggles. The female and the male in this poetry book ‘This Girl and This Boy’ experience all these emotions in their unfiltered relationship. What makes this poetry book different to many other poetry books is it gives a voice to both narratives. Normally, books solely focus on the girl’s raw emotions with regards to a relationship break-up as it’s deemed more acceptable in society for a girl to express these feelings. However, both sexes (male and female) experience raw emotions and it’s important that the reader understands both perspectives. There are two chapters - 30 poems from the girl’s voice and 30 poems from the boy’s voice.
10. ROXY DUNN – August Conker
Roxy’s poetry has appeared in: The Rialto, Orbis and Ofi Press Magazine, and a collection of her poems are printed in the anthology Podium Poets #2 (published by Nasty Little Press). Her debut pamphlet Clowning (published by Eyewear) is their highest selling pamphlet to date and was a Staff Pick at Foyles Charing Cross Road. She works as an actor and a writer for theatre and television.
Dunn’s debut collection uses quick-fire wit and acute self-consciousness to muse on modern-day philosophy, relationships, and urban living. The poems are aptly contradictory and often humorous, as Dunn conveys the feelings of millennial disconnect and the instability of today’s surroundings. August Conker is a poignant and comic reflection on personal victories and defeats against the backdrop of these uncertain times.
11. WHYT PUGH - Seven