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FIRST COLLECTION POETRY PRIZE 2020 – THE SHORTLIST  Covers of 5 shortlisted poetry books

09 June 2020

The Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast has announced the shortlist for the 2020 Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize, supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

The Prize celebrates the work of a writer whose first, full collection has been published in the preceding year, by a UK or Ireland-based publisher. The winner receives £5,000 and is invited to read at Glucksman Ireland House in New York. For this they receive travel, accommodation, and a $1,000 honorarium. Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, Glucksman Ireland House is New York University's Center for Irish and Irish-American Studies and one of the top-ranked academic Irish Studies programmes in the United States.

The prestigious Prize is awarded as part of the Seamus Heaney Legacy Project, a joint 10-year fund between Queen's University Belfast and the Arts Council for Northern Ireland, with the support of Atlantic Philanthropies. The winner will be announced during the Centre’s annual Poetry Summer School, at a virtual Award Night on Thursday 2 July 2020. 

The shortlist includes:  

  • Fléche by Mary Jean Chan (Faber & Faber, 2019) 
  • Significant Other by Isabel Galleymore (Carcanet, 2019) 
  • A Man’s House Catches Fire by Tom Sastry (Nine Arches Press, 2019) 
  • So Many Rooms by Laura Scott (Carcanet, 2019) 
  • Fold by Lucy Wadham (Pindrop Press, 2019)

This year’s judges are Professor Nick Laird, poet and Chair of Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre; Professor Frank Ormsby, Ireland Chair of Poetry; and Dr Leontia Flynn, poet and reader in Poetry at the Seamus Heaney Centre.  

Speaking about the prize Nick Laird, Chair of the judging panel said: “This year there were 43 entrants for the Seamus Heaney award for the best debut collection published in the UK and Ireland, and as always the judges were deeply impressed with the creativity on display.

“There was immense diversity in tone and subject matter, and it was a struggle to narrow the candidates down to only five books. The shortlist we’ve chosen represents not just accomplishment but also potential. 

“Each book on the shortlist is ambitious enough to find, amid the deafening static of real life, a space to communicate in. We were put in mind of John Hewitt’s prescription: I do not pitch my voice/ that every phrase be heard / by those who have no choice: / their quality of mind / must be withdrawn and still, / as moth that answers moth / across a roaring hill. 

“Any one of these books would be a worthy winner, and all are worth your time.” 

Previous winners of the Prize include: Ned Denny for Unearthly Toys: Poems and Masks, published by Carcanet (2019), Richard Osmond in 2018 for Useful Verses (Picador Poetry), and Fiona Benson for her collection Bright Travellers (Cape Poetry) in 2015.

Since 2003, the Seamus Heaney Centre has been home to some of the UK and Ireland’s foremost poets, novelists, scriptwriters, and critics. Building on a literary heritage at Queen’s that stretches back to the 1960s ‘Belfast Group’, the Centre is dedicated to excellence and innovation in creative writing and poetry criticism.

For further information contact Rachel Brown, Seamus Heaney Centre Coordinator.

Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s Communications Office on telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 3259.


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