Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows 2020/21 announced

Three of the UK’s most exciting poets Romalyn Ante, Dzifa Benson, and Jamie Hale have been selected as the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows for 2020/21.

Each poet receives £15,000 and is given a year of critical support and mentoring. Turning the idea of an arts prize on its head, the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship provides each poet with the time and space to focus on their craft and fulfil their potential with no expectation that they produce a particular work or outcome.

Recognising the power of potential, the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship’s approach to funding advocates for a change in art funding practice in the UK, providing opportunities outside commercial pressures for artistic growth and new ideas to flourish. The Fellowship provides financial support towards the development of under-supported and diverse artistic practices across the UK, with a focus on the pursuit of artistic experimentation and the space for artists to thrive.

This alternative approach to recognising and rewarding outstanding poets, is now in its third and final edition. Previous recipients are: Raymond Antrobus, Jane Commane and Jackie Hagan (2017-18 Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows) and Hafsah Aneela Bashir, Anthony Joseph and Yomi Ṣode (2019-20 Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellows).

Romalyn Ante, Dzifa Benson, and Jamie Hale illustrate how diverse and exciting poetry has become in the 21st century. Through activism, visual arts, theatre, and drawing from their personal experiences/circumstances, the three poets express their practice through a multitude of ways, opening poetry up to a wide range of audiences. Each poet has produced outstanding work to date and have demonstrated enormous, unselfish generosity towards other poets, giving far more than they have received particularly during the pandemic. They have been selected for the potential they display at this critical point in their individual careers, when the support provided from the Fellowship will make the most difference.

Alongside the freely given grant of £15,000, the three Fellows will each receive mentoring from the programme’s manager Dr Nathalie Teitler FRSA and access to experts drawn from the poetry world and beyond. Nathalie has run literature programmes promoting diversity in the UK for over 20 years, founding the first national mentoring and translation programmes for writers living in exile. She is the Director of The Complete Works – a national development programme that helped to raise the number of Black and Asian poets published by major presses.

Romalyn Ante is an award-winning Filipino-born, Wolverhampton-based poet, translator, editor and essayist. She is co-founding editor of harana poetry, an online magazine for poets writing in English as a second or parallel language, and her accolades include the Poetry London Prize, Manchester Poetry Prize, Society of Author’s Foundation Award, Developing Your Creative Practice, Creative Future Literary Award, amongst others. Apart from being a writer, she also works full-time as a nurse practitioner, specializing in providing different psychotherapeutic treatments.

Dzifa Benson is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work intersects science, art, the body and ritual, which she explores through poetry, prose, theatre-making, performance, essays and criticism. She has performed nationally and internationally for Tate Britain, the Courtauld Institute of Art, BBC Africa Beyond and more, and she abridged the National Youth Theatre’s 2021 production of Othello in collaboration with Olivier award-winning director Miranda Cromwell.

Jamie Hale is a poet, script/screenwriter and essayist based in London, whose work often explores the disabled body, nature, and mortality. Their pamphlet, Shield – about disability, treatment prioritisation, and the COVID-19 pandemic was published in January 2020. Their solo poetry show, NOT DYING, was performed at the Lyric Hammersmith and Barbican Centre in 2019, and the filmed version has screened nationally and internationally since. Jamie is also the founder of CRIPtic Arts, an organisation showcasing and developing work by and for d/Deaf and disabled creatives.

Jon Opie, Deputy Director, Jerwood Arts, said: “The Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowships is a special programme, which over the last four years has charted significant changes in the poetry world as begins to embrace the diversity of voices, experience and histories it encompasses. Past Fellows, and now the ones we have announced today, exemplify some of the multitudes of forms and languages that makes poetry an essential part of this country’s life, inseparable from mainstream media, powerfully articulating lived-experiences and enhancing other art forms. I am hugely looking forward to working with Romalyn, Dzfia and Jamie over the coming year. Their talents are unique, and yet they share a generosity and sense of responsibility towards other poets and their communities. I have no doubt their Fellowships will be profound for them and for others around them.”

For the Love of Hendrik de Jongh, Drummer from Batavia

In the beginning,
he was my lord
of the 6 weeks.
When !Kaub showed
the dark side of his face
again, I had to slough off
my lover’s name.

You are on the other side of the water.
Here, my forehead touches only air.
I map the radiant places of your body
the seams of my skin brittle and ablaze.

Even when the rise and fall of our ribcages insist
we are still here, I try to live above the flood.
I breathe you in. You breathe me out. The world,
in rain-wind and dilate-sun, leans in to learn
which way to carve the howling sweep of years.

You asked: What parts of you are unknown to me?
I answered: This too muchness of self in its not enoughness.

Day empties through us as a Cape sugarbird sparkles thinly
in the shadows.
You let me follow you into your dreams. Vast night looks in,
leads us by a nose of buchu into its fluid corners on the //Stars Road.
Our eyes don’t close.
I want to bury the chameleon of this love in a secret place of nerve and sinew
while we wait for the mantis to sing the !Great Hunger to sleep.

If I arrived at your voice again would it fatten
into a new kind of passing time,
pour down my back into this thousand years
hollow of my spine? Your memory breathes
warmth over my skin. My body catches it
like when our astonished spirits
were every crashing leaf on every tree,
when our hallowed hands cupped
soft curving and fingered lean meat.

You never left. We endured. I was still denied.

My I was him.
In order to live
I had to use
the knife
between us.

Lusus Naturae at Bartholomew Fair: Natural-Born, Made and Fake

Ms Harvey’s eyes and hair made people weak at the knees with an uncommon fervour

They say I look like an angel with my hair
the pale straw colour of the silkworm’s thread
my eyes, a shade lighter than Indian pink.
They say I’m impertinent without being impolite
while maintaining a proper feminine dignity. Yet
the mob at Glasgow Fair was so unaffected by
my beauty, it turned me out of my cosy booth
as it also turned out a showful of wild beasts.

Ms Hipson, the tall Dutchwoman, dreams of dancing with a man tall enough to make her feel delicate

I cannot stand silence so it’s the glee and the din
of the stage for me. I sway among rafters to the patter
of the gaffer, to the gauge of long drum and hurdy-gurdy.
I am a spiritual sister of giraffe-necked women, daughter
of a stilt-walking Titan. Home is sawdust and greasepaint.
Kin is the spit-snarl of the rabble, half-cut with pale ale.

Ms Morgan, the Windsor Fairy, excited in the breasts of dukes sensations of wonder and delight

It’s a big world and I’m a little person. Blood can be
flowers or the very last thing you ever see. Even walking
can seem like a uncanny thing when you are a simulacrum
of woman, when something has been left behind. It’s a strange
tongue, this one my body has to speak. But please, do not
mistake the smallness of my anatomy for the smallness of a life.

Ms Sidonia married twice and retired a wealthy woman

God sent me this beard, I will not take it off!
How else would they notice me? This visage
is a lure, toast of the mob, I am a sight to silence
the baying crowd. I cheated death, I fought
and won. That makes me beautiful. I bow now
to the deities who live in my whiskers.

Ms Hopwood silenced the room when they lifted her out of the womb

They look at me as if this embarrassment of limbs
protruding from my chest is an act of war committed
against them. A wound, God in the shape of a jest,
the flight of chimaeras in hurricanes. My body is surely
not the most hospitable of hosts, cobbled together in taverns
and fairgrounds, in excess of the natural order of things.
They can’t imagine what I choose to believe in this armour.

Ms Vaughn of the piebald skin is also a trick-roper of royal lineage

Your bodies were given to you, not chosen by you.
You take your bodies for granted so you don’t exist
to me. When you thought of a daughter, you never
expected this. Shrivelled apple for a face, my epidermis
a hot to the touch patchwork of failed answers. Myth is
your yawning maw. I am the mooncalf who comes
and goes. After the fifth time my mother marked me
so she would know me again in other lives.

Ms Baartman wears her sense of self tightly, she musn’t let it float free

Here I am ripe and raw, carved root fashioned as woman.
Stone born from the brow of a dark mother whose many limbs
speak in tongues of glinting silver and singeing iron. I hang
like a curtain skirting the stage, my cloth pouring down endlessly.
These watchers, black holes where their hearts should be, would
walk right through me. They see in me the things they would do
to themselves if they were me. Who marked me while I was in the womb?
Who would curse me? I prance up and down these floorboards to keep
from weeping, sing myself away over and over again with the same red song.

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