Costa Poetry Award 2017 winner: Helen Dunmore

Announced on 2nd January on Radio 4 ‘Front Row’   and Costa Prize website:

   Inside the Wave       by Helen Dunmore

       published by ‘Bloodaxe’

I havent read this collection yet as I chose to look at a debut collection shortlisted, by Kayo Chingonyi:  Kumukanda, Graph Review, a few dates ago..

The judges reviews for Helen Dunmores collection suggest this is a ‘must read’ volume  of her most recent poetry.  She completed and put together this new work after being diagnosed with cancer.  At the same time completing her final novel, ‘The Birdcage’

I would only be repeating the announcement to say more but should highlight that the second printing of this title contains her final poem written days before her death in March 2017 and included in the second reprint of the book.  Therefore if, like me, you are about to buy a copy then make sure it has the poem    ‘Hold Out Your Arms’.

The outright winner from all the section winners will be announced on Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday 30th January.       By which time I hope to read and review this title.


Shortlist, Costa Poetry Award 2017

Shortlist, 2017 Costa Poetry Award


Moniza Alvi    Poet

Kiran Millwood Hargrave     Author

Nicholas Wroe Guardian Writer and Editor

This (from below my italics) is from the poetry page of Costa, for the results of all shortlists click for link:   Costa Awards 2017 shortlist

Many other links you could choose as alternative, I would also offer the Guardian pages

The main question for me is which title/author  will I plump for reading as I have not read any of the books?  ‘All’  is not a useful answer as I have to start with one and the judges comments guarantee each one needs to be read.

So, its the debut collections first as the poets are new to me.  Next, is it the new take on ‘Nature’ (Useful Verses) to  ride on my long-term interest in said subject or the challenge of race and identity (Kumukanda)   which also ticks a large box despite my being ‘old, white and British’?  …… but it is ‘being an outsider/onlooker’ that marries into both, maybe all poetry……  so maybe for me the interest is also a challenge of  seeing and feeling through other peoples eyes what I cannot expect to really understand but would like to try.                      So Kumukanda, is the one I will   buy and review first


by Kayo Chingonyi     (Chatto & Windus)

Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. Kayo Chingonyi’s debut explores this passage: between two worlds, ancestral and contemporary; between the living and the dead; between the gulf of who he is and how he is perceived. Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, this debut collection is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.

Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987, and moved to the UK at the age of six. He is the author of two pamphlets, and a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry. In 2012, he was awarded a Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 2015.

Judges: ‘Energetic, skilled, tender and bold – this is an outstanding collection by a major new talent.’



Inside the Wave     by Helen Dunmore (Bloodaxe Books)

To be alive is to be inside the wave, always travelling until it breaks and is gone. These poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both. They possess a spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage. Helen Dunmore was a poet, novelist, short story and children’s writer. Her poetry books have been given the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendations and won several prizes including the Cardiff International Poetry Prize, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award and the Signal Poetry Award.  Her poem ‘The Malarkey’ won the 2010 National Poetry Competition.  She published fifteen novels and three books of short stories – most recently, Birdcage Walk in 2017.  She died in June 2017.

Judges: ‘We were all stunned by these breathtaking poems.’


On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey (Carcanet)

Set against a backdrop of ecological and economic instability, Sinéad Morrissey’s sixth collection revisits some of the great feats of human engineering to reveal the states of balance and imbalance that have shaped our history. The poems also address gender inequality and our inharmonious relationship with the natural world. Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She read English and German at Trinity College, Dublin, from which she took her PhD in 2003, and has published five collections including Parallax (2013) which won the T S Eliot Prize. She’s lived in Germany, Japan and New Zealand and lectured in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast and now lives in Northumberland where she’s Head of the Creative Writing programme at Newcastle University. She’s also Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Judges: ‘This collection appropriately strikes a balance between technical mastery and range and depth of enquiry.’


Useful Verses by Richard Osmond (Picador)

Richard Osmond’s debut collection follows in the tradition of the best nature writing, being as much about the human world as the natural, the present as the past. Osmond, a professional forager, has a deep knowledge of flora and fauna as they appear in both natural and human history, as they are depicted in both folklore and herbal – but he views them through a wholly contemporary lens. Chamomile is discussed through quantum physics, ants through social media, wood sorrel through online gambling, and mugwort through a traffic cone. In each case, Osmond offers an arresting and new perspective, and makes that hidden world that lives and breathes beside us vividly part of our own. Richard Osmond was born in 1987. He works as a wild food forager, searching for plants, fruits and fungi among the forests and hedgerows of Hertfordshire and co-owns an award-winning wild food pub, The Verulam Arms, in St Albans. He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2017.

Judges: ‘A contemporary, agile and original take on the intersection of the natural and human worlds.’

Category winners announced 2nd Jan. 2018;  main winner announced 30th Jan. 2018.


Costa Poetry Prize category Winners 2016

Winner of each category of the Costa Book Awards was announced on 3rd January, 2017:

Firstly, congratulations to the Costa Poetry Prize winner:

Alice Oswald     for:  Falling Awake    falling-imagepoems written to be read aloud on exploring life’s losing struggle with the gravity of nature.

Other shortlisted poets were:

Kate Tempest                           Let Them Eat Chaos

Melissa Lee-Houghton        Sunshine

Denise Riley                            Say Something Black   

The winner of the Costa Book of the Year  2016 will be announced 31st Jan. 2016

be chosen from these 2016 category winners for:

First Novel          Francis Spufford       Golden Hill      New York in the winter of 1746

Novel                      Sebastion Barry        Days Without End   Set in Indian and Civil wars in America

Biography            Keggie Carew              Dadland      (part memoir, part history, discovering the story of her father, Tom Carew as he slipped into dementia: S.O.E, Jedburghs, Burma and more, in a colourful life)

Poetry                  Alice Oswald                Falling Awake

Children’s book     Brian Conaghan      The Bombs That Brought us Together     the story of two friends, one shed, a war and a terrible choice.

Kate Tempest’s  Let Them Eat Chaos is the only poem I have, in this case, seen but not read in hard copy but reviewed on this site earlier.   I will look to reviewing Alice Oswald’s winning collection soonest!

Jo Shapcott, Of Mutability; A Graph Review

  A Graph Review
60 with many highpoints 70

Of Mutability
Author  Jo Shapcott

Published  by  faber & faber                2010.                       Paper                 9780571254712
Costa Book of the Year 2010

In reading this book I feel I am creeping out of the past and entering the present (well, recent past, anyway).  I have spent too much time dipping and delving into the last 100 years or more.  Admittedly I have surfaced twice (Claire Trevien and Daniel Healey) and am now perhaps reading more current poets but I have still  to fully surface from the past.

So, no surprise or apologies for bringing attention to Jo Shapcott’s fourth book published 2010: Of Mutability .  When published it was her first new collection for 12 years.

45 poems in this collection

Mutable…..definition: Capable of or liable to change or alteration  (Longman Concise E.D.)

Free verse throughout.  No skinny lines here, no average length of poem or designer rhymes.  Yes, some are short and brief, others run through, lines bleeding over the page like straight text.  Subjects vary from ill health to recovery, on survival, from decline to love.  All look at the different natures of change via image and emotion.  What I feel from this poet’s collection is an understanding, an inevitability that life is change;  without change, for good or ill, there is nothing and from that comes the sense that change is a form of creation to be accepted and in a loose fashion, angry or ecstatic sense, celebrated. The poetry is confrontational, observational and joyful.  Of Mutability is the title, a named poem, and the whole collection runs with that theme, very satisfying.

Emotional images, many surreal, buffer with the more ordinary in these poems.  Often several poems linked by subject and style.  We have imagist poems, The Gherkin in its stylised layout, another short, brief and full of depth; a set of trees, poems in response to:; loss, love and fact  Surrealism abounds and for some reason this collection gives me a mash, picture-echoes, of Dali, Gauguin and Hockney, a heady and bizarre mix.  Lastly we have a superb poem that draws on another image, from an elemental act the sheer power and joy of the creative mind.  For me an ending of double echoes, of double echoes.

A deserving winner of the Costa Book Award, not just the Costa Poetry Award, beating all-comers that year.  Deserving to stand the test of time as a collection and a poet.

As a collection it merits reading from start to finish.  I might get a kicking if I hesitate over Border Cartography with its six little scenic, short verses that feel like an unexpected eddy within the book.  Maybe that’s the point.  These poems can/should be read in clumps as they fit together but as per usual I pick out just a few, below, that tick my boxes………


photo by Lin Smith

Scorpion;          The Black Page;         Somewhat Unravelled;          Alternative;
Night Flight from Muncaster;              Piss Flower