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Sumita Chakraborty Wins Seamus Heaney Prize

Friday, 2 Jul 2021

Author photo of Sumita Chakraborty We're delighted to share the news that Sumita Chakraborty has been awarded the 2021 Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize for her debut collection, Arrow

The news was announced last night, Thursday July 1st, at the virtual award night during the Seamus Heaney Annual Poetry Summer School.

The Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize is awarded annually to a writer whose first full collection has been published in the preceding year, by a UK or Ireland-based publisher. The winning writer receives £5,000 and is invited to participate in the Seamus Heaney Centre’s busy cal-endar of literary events.  This year’s judges were Professor Nick Laird, poet and Chair of Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre; and Dr Stephen Sexton, poet and lecturer in Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre. They were joined by the poet, Elaine Feeney. 

Speaking about the winning collection Professor Nick Laird, Chair of the judging panel commented: “Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty is a marvellous collection for both the maximalist and minimalist. Here are brief lyrics, prose essays, parables, lengthy lineated epics – and all of them given life with lan-guage stretched and pummelled into shape. Dealing in myth, astronomy, autobiography, philosophy, physics and metaphysics, Chakraborty possesses a singular outlook and the tone of a prophet.” 

Dr Stephen Sexton added: "These wonderful collections not only demonstrate the talents and bril-liances of their authors: they bring out the best in us as readers. Always we ought to try to appreciate a book on its own terms, and these books are gregarious and serious; grieving and wounded. It has been a pleasure to discuss and ponder and query these fine collections with my fellow judges, and, most of all, to come to admire their mythologies and emotional and historical landscapes.”

Speaking about her award, Sumitasaid: "'I grew out of all this / like a weeping willow / inclined to / the appetites of gravity’: as soon as I first read these lines from Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Kinship’ as an undergraduate, they became for me a meditation about surviving violence and paying attention to the new hungers and desires to which I had begun to lean, which is what Arrow is about. This award holds a doubly special place in my heart because my first published piece of academic scholarship was also about Heaney; his presence in both of these ‘firsts’ speaks to how very much his work has meant to me for a long time, and I thank the judges for this honor.”

Congratulations to Sumita from all at Carcanet, and do all the other shortlisted poets - including our own Katherine Horrex, who made the shortlist with her collection, Growlery.

Cover image of Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty Arrow is a debut volume extraordinary in ambition, range and achievement. At its centre is 'Dear, beloved', a more-than-elegy for her younger sister who died suddenly: in the two years she took to write the poem, much else came into play: 'it was my hope to write the mood of elegy rather than an elegy proper,' following the example of the great elegists including Milton, to whose Paradise Lost she listened during the period of composition, also hearing the strains of Brigit Pegeen Kelly's Song, of Alice Oswald and Marie Howe. The poem becomes a kind of kingdom, 'one that is at once evil, or blighted, and beautiful, not to mention everything in between'.

As well as elegy, Chakraborty composes invocations, verse essays, and the strange extended miracle of the title poem, in which ancient and modern history, memory and the lived moment, are held in a directed balance. It celebrates the natural forces of the world and the rapt experience of balance, form and - love. She declares a marked admiration for poems that 'will write into being a world that already in some way exists'. This is what her poems achieve.

Buy the book here.

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