For the first time, three poets have been jointly awarded the prestigious Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
After whittling down over 1000 entries, judges were unable to choose between the three most stand-out poets – Hiwot Adilow from Ethiopia, Theresa Lola from Nigeria, and Momtaza Mehri from Somalia.
The winners of the annual prize, which challenges African poets worldwide to submit a pamphlet of 10 poems, will receive £1000 each in prize money, and have their work published in the New Generation African Poets series of books by the African Poetry Book Fund.
Judged by a panel of academics and writers, the Brunel International African Poetry prize was launched in 2012 to help revitalise African poetry. Previous winners of the prize have gone on to publish complete works of their poetry.
“Winning the Brunel International African Poetry Prize feels surreal, it is an unwavering highlight,” said Theresa Lola, who was first inspired to start writing poetry after a trip to the Lagos Poetry Festival when she was 12.
“To win the Brunel International African Poetry Prize feels like I am doing my job and responsibility as a poet and human in putting Africa forward where it rightly belongs.”
Fellow winner Momtaza Mehri, who was awarded the Young People’s Laureate of London earlier in 2018, said: “I am overjoyed and overwhelmed to win an award that is changing the landscape of African Poetry. To have won alongside poets I admire and learn from is the proverbial icing on the cake.
“This prize will hopefully entrench me deeper into the wider community of African poets both in the continent and those in diaspora. That is a community I wish to continue speaking to and with.”
Hiwot Adilow, who currently studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: "Winning the Brunel International African Poetry Prize comes at such a critical turning point in my life. I'm very alert about being in a transitional period and the prize eases some of my anxiety about this. I'll be graduating with my BA in a few weeks and questions about what I'll do or who I'll be "in the real world" have been looming in one form or another.
"It's been very affirming to know that I can shape a future for myself by following my love of language, by using language in ways that are specific to my desires and my questions for the world."
Dr Bernadine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London, and founder of the Brunel International African Poetry prize, said: ‘To be one of three winners of this prize, out of 1000 entries, is an amazing achievement.
“I’d like to congratulate the winners for rising to the top and wish them well with their future careers as poets.’
A selection of the winning poems
MOMTAZA MEHRI - Beenie Man Asks Who Am I & The Jury’s Still Out
The zeitgeist called and it wants its coins back. Somebody’s gonna pay for what the world did to me. Promise or a warning, interpret as intended. You can’t mic drop your way out of genocide. Tonight I am looking for an audience, another way of saying I am looking for a weapon. Whichever recoils in my general direction. Whichever I mistake for applause. I would keep my friends close but they turn into my enemies. Such is cruelty made tender. Pop culture is the minutiae of my loneliness. Neon behind the eyes. I glow from the inside out. Jangle to the hips. Each nightly simmer. Zim Zimma. Keys to the Bimma. I came. I saw. I left. Black Caesar. Born into anomaly. The Romans become Ar Rum become the dirt that suckles my preened roses. Verse two by three. To the ends of the earth and they will be beaten again. Overcome. Consider, if you can, today’s lone prophecy. Profit I see. Prophet a-sea. Men in and out of water look the same. Suck salt’s marrow with every breath. Water & dark bodies haven’t been on speaking terms for a while now. This, I was born knowing. Now the land, the land knows how to hold a body. Is well practiced. Welcomes our detritus. Our wet & weathered undoing. Particulates all our secrets. Secret defined as: blank cheques, blood promises, birth rights, bruised calves & everything else that leaves its time-stamp on the wrist. Take these keys as gifts.
I cannot give you a home. Take me as gift.
THERESA LOLA - Portrait of My Father as A Dead Man
While painting a portrait of my father as a dead man, I am also cooking dinner. I gorge out my father’s eyes and blend them with the red peppercorn seeds to heighten the sting of the soup’s spice. /////// Call me a cowardice, he is asleep, tired from work, even made time to ask how my day was. /////// I cut my father’s spine like it is the water leaf I am chopping to make eforiro soup. In his portrait I paint his bones as a white caterpillar, the kind that never grows into a butterfly. You think killing a man is enough to give you peace, but his body will collapse onto a seesaw that springs up all the buried trauma from the past. /////// To complete my meal, I peel off his black skin and blend it until it looks like Amala. I try to continue the painting of my father as a dead man, but truth is I want to feel his approval, to hear him clap at the brilliance of my talent. My father’s health has been failing anyway, a cyst in his kidney, a nose operation, a dim eyesight. My father’s eyesight is so poor he bumps into my ghosts and calls them obstructing decorations. /////// Before I began this painting, my father said art will not pay me as much as becoming a chartered accountant, but the world loves commodifying pain, this portrait of my father as a dead man should make me rich.
HIWOT ADILOW - Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
I’m in the dimlit cold of my room, too young to keep good love from going
wrong. Always a girlfriend, yesterday. Tucked in the palace of my slumbering
joys, under frost. My solitude becomes a torch. My best love was a daughter
of swampy bloom, mudpuckered flowers, haunted families, flood stains.
The mystery white boy croons forget her and the blueswoman swarms
to the bottom of my cup of tea, right into the honey’s gunk, straight
into a husband’s arms. I reside in a palace full of unseamed gowns.
I’ll do this ‘til death, to redeem my health. No princes, no kisses,
bare-shouldered as the dust collects. Miss Havisham in the flesh.
I’ll practice love’s traditions by myself: feed my worn body,
oil my skin, kiss my shoulder for a kingdom of my own