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McCarthy Woolf and Clarke on Laurel Prize Longlist

Monday, 27 Jul 2020

Shortlist image We're delighted to share the news that two Carcanet poets are included on the inaugural Laurel Prize longlist! Congratulations to Karen McCarthy Woolf, who is shortlisted with her 2017 collection, Seasonal Disturbances, and to Gillian Clarke, who is shortlsited with Zoology, also published in 2017.

The prize is funded by Simon Armitage out of his £5,000 laureate's honorarium, which he receives annually fromthe Queen, and run by the Poetry School. It is awarded annually for the bestpublished collection of environmental or nature poetry - this is the first year of the prize.

Simon Armitage said: “Reading these books has been a hugelyuplifting and moving experience. The strength of the long list is testimony tothe way that contemporary poetry is bearing witness to the fragile state of theplanet and the importance of engaging with nature through detailed observationand considered language. These arecollections that explore our deep and complex relationship with the worldaround us and our actions within it.”

Poet and nature writer, Robert Macfarlane, one of the judges said: "The Laurel Prizelonglist gives the lie to any old, staid understandings of 'nature poetry'; thework here is singingly, variously alive to the complexities of modern nature,and to the experiences of hope, fear, wonder and horror in which our relationswith the natural world are entangled."

shortlist image Zoology is Gillian Clarke’s ninth Carcanet collection, following her T. S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted Ice. The collection opens with a glimpse of hare, whose ‘heartbeat halts at the edge of the lawn’, holding us ‘in the planet of its stare’. Within this millisecond of mutual arrest, a well of memories draws us into the Welsh landscape of the poet’s childhood: her parents, the threat of war, the richness of nature as experienced by a child. In the second of the collection’s six parts we find ourselves in the Zoology Museum, whose specimens stare back from their cases: the Snowdon rainbow beetle, the marsh fritillary, the golden lion tamarin. ‘Will we be this beautiful when we pass into the silence, behind glass?’ In later sections the poet invites us to Hafod Y Llan, the Snowdonian nature reserve rich in Alpine flowers and abandoned mineshafts, ‘where darkness laps at the brink of a void deep as cathedrals’. Clarke captures a complete cycle of seasons on the land, its bounty and hardship, from the spring lamb ‘birthed like a fish / steaming in moonlight’ to the ewe bearing her baby ‘in the funeral boat of her body’. The poems tap into a powerful, feminist empathy that sees beyond differentiations of species to an understanding deeper than knowledge, something subterranean, running through the land. Zoology closes with a series of elegies to friends, poets and peers, and poems remembering victims of war and tyrannical regimes. ‘Like a bird picking over / the September lawn, / I gather their leaves. / This is what silence is.’ Then our hare, that ‘flight of sinew and gold’, is spotted one last time: ‘a silvering wind crossing a field, / two ears alert in a gap / then gone’. Buy it here.

Following her groundbreaking 2014 début An Aviary of Small Birds (‘technically perfect poems of winged heartbreak’ – Observer), Karen McCarthy Woolf returns with Seasonal Disturbances.Set against a backdrop of ecological and emotional turbulence, these poems are charged yet meditative explorations of nature, the city, and the self. A sinister CEO presides over a dystopian hinterland where private detectives investigate crimes against hollyhocks; Halcyon is discovered as a dead kingfisher, washed up on an Italian beach. Lyrical and inventive, McCarthy Woolf’s poems test classic and contemporary forms, from a disrupted zuihitsu that considers her relationship with water, to the landay, golden shovel, and gram of &.As a fifth-generation Londoner and daughter of a Jamaican émigré, McCarthy Woolf makes a variety of linguistic subversions that critique the rhetoric of the British class system. Political as they may be, these poems are not reportage: they aim to inspire what the author describes as an ‘activism of the heart, where we connect to and express forces of renewal and love’. Buy it here.

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