Announcing the Winners of the 2021 International Book & Pamphlet Competition

We are delighted to announce the winners of the 2021 International Book & Pamphlet Competition. Thank you to all entrants for letting us see your work, and congratulations to the four winners as chosen by Daljit Nagra and Pascale Petit: Dean Browne for his collection, Kitchens at Night; Jim McElroy for his collection, We Are The Weather; Maya C. Popa for her collection, Dear Life; and Anastasia Taylor-Lind for her collection, The Field.

Congratulations also to Rebecca Althaus and Kate Rutter, whose respective collections, Burying Your Body and Storyboard, were Highly Commended by the judges.

Judges’ Comments

Pride in place seemed to be the dominant theme of this year’s submissions; or pride and peril, love of landscape and fear for its future seemed to be the abiding textures of many poems I came across. Many submissions were well crafted and edited with impressive imaginative vigour to signal the quality of this important competition, which offers a helpful step on the road, but also a chance to have work published by a significant national press. I enjoyed shortlisting and selecting the winner with my co-judge, Pascale Petite. It’s always a pleasure and an honour working with a remarkable poet who is also an enthusiast of new work. We settled on our final winners without any disagreement; four submissions slightly stood out ahead of the others for their ability to sustain quality across the sequence, for their freshness of approach and for their play with craft. I hope the reader will enjoy the winning collections as much as we enjoyed revisiting them and finding technical wizardry and complexity that gave us new ways of feeling about the world.

— Daljit Nagra

Because this competition has been around for decades and is managed by the much-admired and indefatigable Poetry Business I knew it would attract quality, but reading the entries was sheer pleasure. Thank you to everyone who entered, for entrusting us with your poems during vulnerable times. The pamphlet format allows a cumulative reading, opportunity for unearthing extraordinary talent, and we were indeed wowed by the best work, where excellence was sustained over the whole collection. Daljit Nagra was a dream co-judge and after sending each other our remarkably similar shortlists, we discussed them during a Zoom meeting, happily agreeing on the winners. Reading the submissions gave me an insight into what’s up-and-coming, a chance to preview new voices, and a marvellous cross-section of preoccupations. I hope you’ll enjoy our choices as much as we did.

— Pascale Petit

Dean Browne

For his collection, Kitchens at Night

These poems are packed with exuberant images. They twist and turn in constantly surprising ways – line by line, I never know where they’ll take me next! The first read exhilarates; re-reads reveal hidden depths and subterranean passages to the magical adventures. I adored the furniture poems especially, but every poem thrills. This is gorgeous, exciting work and I’m in awe of its energy and vitality. – Pascale Petit

Quirky, kooky, dark, philosophical, absurd and always wonderful, often edged between outrageous humour and revelation, these richly imagistic poems are full of invention. Each poem treads slowly onwards inventing itself as it proceeds to celebrate the transforming powers of poetry. An original and thrilling poet whose every poem hit the mark! – Daljit Nagra

Dean Browne was born in 1994 and raised in Tipperary. His poems have appeared widely in magazines and journals, including Banshee, Bath Magg, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Magazine, Poetry Review, Southword, The Stinging Fly and The Tangerine. His poem ‘Pine Box in the Flea Market’, was shortlisted for Poem of the Year in the Irish Book Awards in 2019. Having previously lived in Berlin, he now lives in Cork City.

Jim McElroy

For his collection, We Are The Weather

A harsh farmstead life is conjured with words the texture of mud and straw, blood and urine. I loved the sonic dance of vowels and consonants, as urgent as “my burst of curses rhyming the bucket”. Words for this poet are beings to roll around in. While the brutalities and charms of farm life thresh on the page, there are also tender moments, such as ‘Unmaking His Chair’ – a lyrical eco-poem told backwards. A linguistic delight! – Pascale Petit

We learn what it must feel like to be a rural child, to grow up amid the rigours of a demanding landscape with its hard-won pleasures. Occasionally we feel the power of Seamus Heaney in the way the natural world is excited through physical and sonorous language. At their best, the details are devoid of self and focus on particularising natural activity with impressive acuity. – Daljit Nagra

Jim McElroy is based in Belfast, and grew up in the Mournes, County Down. He won the 2021 Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing and the 2020 Francis Ledwidge Poetry Award. In 2019 he was selected for Poetry Ireland Introductions, and awarded an Individual Artist Award by Arts Council NI. In 2020 he was shortlisted for the Rialto pamphlet award, Cúirt New Writing prize, was runner-up in the Fingal Poetry Prize and he was nominated for the Pushcart and Forward prizes. He has also been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize on two occasions. Recurrent themes include the natural world, climate, war, technological change and ageing.

Maya C. Popa

For her collection, Dear Life

These meditations on life’s big themes are subtle, dreamy, sharp, and composed with great economy. They have a quiet power and gravitas. The poet achieves universality, which is a hard thing to do, and has a consistent gift for outstanding lines. The title poem is particularly moving and exquisite. This is a brand-new voice, like a Larkinseque Mary Oliver if that’s possible! But very much herself. – Pascale Petit

The clean poetic line dramatizes a coming-of-age narrative, alongside some lovely and moving poems about the natural world which question our experience of nature as well as describing it. What stood out persistently was the tenderness, the phrase making and occasional moments of humour. – Daljit Nagra

Maya C. Popa is the author of American Faith (Sarabande Books; recipient of the 2020 North American Book Prize), as well as two chapbooks. Her writing appears in The Paris Review, Poetry, The TLS, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of awards in the US and UK, including the Editor’s Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the Martin Starkie Prize from the Oxford Poetry Society. Popa serves as Poetry Reviews Editor at Publishers Weekly and teaches at NYU and elsewhere. She holds degrees from Oxford University, where she was a Clarendon Scholar, NYU, and Barnard College and is currently pursuing her PhD on the role of wonder in poetry at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind

For her collection, The Field

These telegrammatic and compelling impressions from an Armenian war by a photojournalist are utterly authentic and original. The sudden, searing images and bald facts present the un-presentable with rigorous honesty. Each bulletin told me something I didn’t know, which is what a poem should do. The accompanying photographs are as strong as the texts. I admire how the poet transports us somewhere entirely different, but without the risk that she has had to take to acquire such hard-won insights. – Pascale Petit

An astonishing reportage of the first war during the pandemic which has a bricolage style of construction written from the perspective of a female photojournalist. The conventional verses sit alongside images and agonised questions that complicate the politics of war reporting. This is a dramatic narrative that is constantly disrupted to challenge itself, which makes for a gripping account of witness. – Daljit Nagra

Anastasia Taylor-Lind is an English/Swedish photojournalist covering issues relating to women, war and violence. She is a National Geographic Magazine photographer, a TED fellow and a 2016 Harvard Nieman fellow. She writes poems about contemporary conflicts and the experiences she cannot photograph.

Highly Commended

Rebecca Althaus

For her collection, Burying Your Body

This memorable sequence is an intense, moving, and meticulous account of a lover’s death from cancer – narrated with tender and visceral attention to detail, no feeling spared. Every line feels true and bone-sharp. It’s full of the grit of grief with lyrical shots of rapture. A truly engrossing read. – Pascale Petit

What makes this moving, haunting collection so impressive is that it reads like a verse novel that we move through with the dread of impending loss, the tremors of nightmare, and the daily frustrations of patient and family. The formal directness captures the pathos, the anger and the abiding love in a shining and shocked collection. – Daljit Nagra

Rebecca Althaus grew up in Surrey and now lives off-grid in a wild Victorian walled garden in Somerset. She is a full-time poet whose abiding interests are love, death and nature. She studied Philosophy & Literature at degree level and gained an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Bath Spa University in 2020. Her as yet unpublished collection ‘Burying Your Body’ documents the death of her husband; poems from the collection have appeared in Raceme and The North and will be in the forthcoming issue of Tears in the Fence.

Kate Rutter

For her collection, Storyboard

The first several poems in this collection have visionary flashes that reveal, but do not make explicit, dreamscapes from war, told in camera takes and jump-cuts. The effect is numinous and this wonderfully estranging quality is carried over to a lesser extent in further poems about our Covid times. I felt like I was looking at Stanley Spencer paintings, full of smoke and light. – Pascale Petit

Strange movements or an active emptiness of another life alights on these poems, as though the quiet of Thomas’ ‘Adlestrop’ were making discontinuities in the everyday. Poems seem to surprise themselves with what they have found, and at their best they seem to clear spaces for reflective thought. – Daljit Nagra

Kate Rutter has worked as an actor in film, television and theatre for many years. Her recent credits include Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake and Coriolanus at Sheffield Crucible Theatre. Her work as an actor strongly informs her poetry. She is interested in the feel of words in the mouth and the visual, sometimes filmic, images they can create. Her writing often emerges from the space where the two art forms meet. Kate was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize judged by Michael Laskey and her poems have been published in The Rialto, The North, Magma, Matter and in several anthologies.

Poems by all four winners and the two highly commended poets will feature in issue 67 of The North magazine, which is out this Winter. 

The 2021 International Book & Pamphlet Competition will open for entries on 1st October 2021. 

The Judges

Daljit Nagra’s four poetry collections (Faber & Faber) have won the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem and Best First Book, the South Bank Show Decibel Award and the Cholmondeley Award, and been shortlisted for the Costa Prize and twice for the T.S. Eliot Prize. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, the LRB and the TLS. Inaugural Poet-in-Residence for Radio 4 & 4 Extra, Daljit is a PBS New Generation Poet, presents Poetry Extra, and serves on the Council of the Royal Society of Literature.

Pascale Petit’s eighth collection, Tiger Girl (Bloodaxe Books, 2020), was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection, and includes the winner of the 2020 Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize. Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books, 2017) won the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018 and was shortlisted for the inaugural Laurel Prize. Four previous collections were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Her books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Serbian and French.

Ann and Peter Sansom are directors of the Poetry Business and editors of The North magazine and Smith|Doorstop books. Ann’s publications include Romance and In Praise of Men & Other People (Bloodaxe) and Peter’s include Writing Poems (Bloodaxe) and Selected Poems (Carcanet).

See the list of past winners.

Each and every year The Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition discovers and publishes exciting and substantial new poets…There’s no doubt that this is a career-changing poetry competition. If you’ve got a solid body of work that you’re pleased to have written, there’s nowhere better to send it.

The Poetry Trust

One of the career milestones for very many poets of note

Anne-Marie Fyfe

I’ve judged a lot of contests, but I can’t recall any where the quality of the poems – one manuscript after another – was so high

Billy Collins, 2015 competition judge