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Victoria Kennefick Wins Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize 2022

Tuesday, 21 Jun 2022

No Text We're over the moon to share that Victoria Kennefick has won the Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize with her collection Eat or We Both Starve! Victoria Kennefick was announced as the winner during the Award Night readings in the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast on Thursday 23rd June 2022.

Speaking about her award, she said:

“When I was little my mother met Seamus Heaney in a restaurant and told him about my ambition to be a poet. 'But she already is,' he assured her and signed a napkin which I still have. Many years later, with much trepidation, I submitted my application for the Seamus Heaney Summer School, my first experience attending a residential poetry course. It had a transformational impact on my writing life, learning as I did from the late, great and much-missed Ciaran Carson, Sinéad Morrissey and Leontia Flynn. During the Summer School, I attended the ceremony for the Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize, won that year by Rachael Boast, so it feels like a full and magical circle that my book has now been given the same honour. I am so grateful to the judges and to all at the Seamus Heaney Centre, and excited too for future poets who will continue to be nourished by Heaney's legacy as I have been.”

This year’s judges are Professor Nick Laird, poet and Seamus Heaney Professor of Poetry at Queen’s University; Dr Stephen Sexton, poet and lecturer in Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre. They are joined by the acclaimed poet Jessica Traynor.

Jessica Traynor, poet and guest judge of this year’s prize commented: ”In Eat or We Both Starve Kennefick gives us a set of metaphysical explorations of what it means to hunger, both spiritually and physically. These questing poems are grounded by language that is both earthy and tactile. Unafraid to lean into the grotesqueness of the body, here we find a world where cannibals confess that 'Hunger...proved stronger than grief.' Keenly attuned to pleasure, too, here female experience is expressed with joyful abandon: 'Afterwards, our seams popping, we shriek with laughter.'"

The audience heard from all shortlisted collections at the Award Night, as part of the Seamus Heaney Poetry Summer School. The event took place in person for the first time since 2019, at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, supported by No Alibis Bookstore.

Congratulations Victoria! 
No Text
Victoria Kennefick's daring first book, Eat or We Both Starve, draws readers into seemingly recognisable set-pieces - the family home, the shared meal, the rituals of historical occasions, desire - but Kennefick forges this material into new shapes, making them viable again for exploring what it is to live with the past - and not to be consumed by it.

Rebecca Goss writes: 'Victoria Kennefick writes with a fresh urgency, giving us poems that are honest and fearless. She once said: "Poetry has saved my life, made my life. Reading and writing it have taught me bravery and discipline." Kennefick is unafraid to explore bereavement, sex and the female body in her poetry. She writes with a visceral originality. Her poems are rich with physical sensations. She is able to find beauty in the big subjects like sorrow and desire, offering us the finest, most startling details. Her identity as a young Irish woman is hugely important to her, something she explores with intelligence and candour. I have always felt there is nothing Victoria could not tackle. The scope in her work is exhilarating.'

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