T. S. Eliot Prize News

Poetry Powerhouses


Andrew McMillan


I’m writing this from Manchester; currently in Tier 3 of the lockdown hierarchy designed to combat the global coronavirus pandemic.(And yes, since I started writing this, things have moved on further, and a we’re in a second national lockdown).  As we gathered last January at the Southbank Centre to hear the annual T.S Eliot Prize Readings, that wasn’t an opening couple of sentences I ever anticipated having to write. Those yearly readings are something I’ve always loved; attending first as a fan, watching Seamus Heaney or Sharon Olds or Daljit Nagra or Claudia Rankine do what they do best, and then more recently as a tutor, bringing down some students from Manchester on the Mega Bus, and now, whatever the world and the Eliot event might look like in January, I’ll be attending as a judge, alongside Mona Arshi and our Chair, Lavinia Greenlaw.

Out of the multitude of things the last year has taught us, one of them is the raw deal that The North of England gets, in relation to the capital. On a rough calculation, I’d say that 13.2% of the UK population live in London. Yet think of how many of our most prestigious literary events, how many of our prizes, base themselves there every year. We know that in all kinds of diversity, and regional diversity is no different, success and visibility beget success and visibility. Seeing great poets of colour on prize lists and winning prizes, Roger Robinson at last year’s Eliot for example, inspires new generations of young poets to step forward, to have their voices heard, to shift what we think of as the ‘centre ground’, to re-write what are often erroneously called ‘the margins’.

What if London was no longer the centre?  What if the Man Booker was awarded in Sheffield? What if the Forwards or the Eliots were given out in Grimsby, or Scarborough? What aspiring writers might then be able to attend, might see the literary life as something local and attainable, and then what new voices would we hear?

Often when I write things like this, I get replies telling me that my dad’s a poet (in case I hadn’t realised), he hosts the Eliots! I was born into the ‘business’! Well then, if so, it’s incumbent on me to keep saying these things for the kids from Barnsley, and Burnley, and Bury, and Berwick and the Black Country, who weren’t.

So come on Londoners, come up for those ‘national’ events; if you book your trains in advance you can probably get them for under £100. Don’t worry if you don’t have a friend to stay with, there’s that last train about 9:40pm, so just leave at half time, or dash off straight after, not being able to talk to anyone.

How about this, every time someone wins a literary prize we invoke the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest;  the winner’s home town or city gets to host the event next year. I had tried to institute that rule myself, but every prize I ever won closed down immediately after. I think it’s because I drank too much free wine.


Bloodaxe Books



Neil Astley


Bloodaxe began as a small press set up by me in 1978 in Newcastle to publish new and neglected poets, mostly from northern England. The first poet was Ken Smith. The name came from Viking king Erik Bloodaxe, the last ruler of the independent North, one of the protagonists of Basil Bunting’s northern epic Briggflatts. The early publications included an LP record of Briggflatts and debut collections by David Constantine, Sean O’Brien and Helen Dunmore.

Within a few years Bloodaxe’s range widened to cover other areas, including poetry in translation (especially from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia), American and Irish poets, poetry by women and by black and Asian poets, and contemporary poetry anthologies. As a reader I’ve always loved many different kinds of poetry, believing that there is excellence to be found in every genre, hence Bloodaxe’s range has included poets as radically different as John Agard, Gillian Allnutt, Jane Hirshfield, J.H. Prynne and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Bloodaxe has also benefited from the failings of commercial publishers in gaining poets whose readership we’ve greatly expanded over many years, including Fleur Adcock, Moniza Alvi, Selima Hill, Peter Reading, Ken Smith, Anne Stevenson and George Szirtes.

Bloodaxe anthologies have not just shown British and Irish readers the poets of their time, from The New Poetry in 1993 to Roddy Lumsden’s Identity Parade in 2010, they have introduced tens of thousands of new readers to world poetry, from Staying Alive in 2002 to Staying Human in 2020.  An American edition of Staying Alive was launched in New York by Meryl Streep.

Other key titles have included Tony Harrison’s v. (1985), the TV film of which MPs tried to ban; Irina Ratushinskaya’s No, I’m Not Afraid (1986), the focus of the campaign to free her from a Soviet labour camp; and Rosemary Tonks’s Bedouin of the London Evening (2014), whose publication was only possible decades after she “disappeared”.

Being able to publish the first collections by poets such as Maura Dooley, Simon Armitage and Jackie Kay came to feel somehow momentous thirty years later, as did publishing Brendan Kennelly and Tomas Tranströmer from 1987 onwards, C.K. Williams from 1988, and Imtiaz Dharker from 1997. And I’ve taken on Irish women poets who’ve achieved international recognition in almost no time at all, notably Ailbhe Darcy, Jane Clarke, Miriam Gamble, Caitríona O’Reilly and Leanne O’Sullivan.

The debut collections have always been a mixture of unsolicited manuscripts, books I’ve sought out, and poets recommended by other poets. Many of the poets I’ve taken on over the past two decades started out in Roddy Lumsden’s workshops or in the tall-lighthouse pamphlet series he curated. Five years ago he urged me to look at the work of Wayne Holloway-Smith: Wayne’s debut, Alarum, followed in 2017, and this year his even more innovative second collection, Love Minus Love, his second PBS Wild Card Choice, has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.

Digital projects have been another key area in recent years, with over 100 poets filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce for videos released on DVD with books or shown on websites and social media. And we’ve been developing important partnerships that have enabled us to reach more readers and do more for writers, most notably with Newcastle University and NCLA (Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts), responsible for our Bloodaxe Poetry App, and much else; and with the Complete Works mentoring programme, showcasing 30 BAME poets in three Ten anthologies. Next year we will launch the James Berry Poetry Prize with NCLA, offering mentoring and first book publication to three BAME poets every two years.






Granta Poetry


Granta Poetry Rachael Allen


I am very inspired by a number of presses in North America, including WAVE books, Ugly Duckling Presse and Black Ocean, and the way these presses (and others like them) create space for erudite, visually innovative, essential books of poetry. As the poetry editor for Granta magazine, I have been lucky enough to publish some of the most exciting contemporary poets. Being able to work with a few of these writers before they had books in mind allowed our first three publications to evolve organically and collaboratively from an early stage. The list really began through these poets’ trust in me.

I edited and published a small-press poetry pamphlet series for a number of years, and retaining the ethics of the small-press and of DIY publishing is very important to me: creating a sense of community, believing in publishing as a space for radical change, and supporting other presses and poets – especially smaller presses – which is where the most essential work happens.

I want the direction of the list to be guided by the work I publish and to always be open to change. But for now; I want to make space for work that might not have space otherwise. I am interested in poetry that doesn’t compromise itself. I like work that engages unashamedly with poetics.

I don’t think we have any particular areas of focus, but I like books of poems that look to break structural binds and cross forms and genres. We have two exceptional books of poems coming in 2021, one of which is Holly Pester’s ludic and essential COMIC TIMING in February.

Will Harris and Daisy Lafarge speak to people and poetry with a vision so generous, so insightful, giving and innovative. They prove to me the importance and necessity of poems to the world.