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Roger Robinson wins the T.S. Eliot Prize for A Portable Paradise!

British-Trinidadian poet Roger Robinson has won the T.S. Eliot Prize for his collection A Portable Paradise. This moving collection features a sequence of poems that reflect on the meanings of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Windrush Scandal.

The prize has been described by Sir Andrew Motion as 'the prize most poets want to win'. It is the only prize for poets judged solely by their peers.

Chair of the judges John Burnside said of the collection, 'It came down to how moving the personal poems were and how relatable and accessible his poetry about his family was, alongside the more political parts about black history, Grenfell and the NHS. There is a wonderful balance of the public and the personal in this collection. It is passionate and sociologically engaged, without being rigorous about it – there was a strong sense of humanity to the book.'

He added, 'Poets have always written about injustices like racism and misogyny because poetry is a great medium for that as it engages all of our faculties, our abilities as humans, our empathies. When people are overtaken about rationality, they forget humanity and pity. Poetry reminds us of those traits again.'

John Burnside was joined on the judges' panel by acclaimed poets Nick Makoha and Sarah Howe; the judges' decision was unanimous.

Speaking to The Bookseller, Roger said, 'I've been practising poetry on a big level for 25 years. To some extent when I started a lot of black and minority ethnic writers were not visible so part of the thing I have tried to do is to try and create situations where black and minority ethnic writers can be seen. If I could get people who look like me to start reading and writing poetry then this award means the world to me. If I can be an example to start a whole revolution of people who thought they can't be poets, they can't write write, they can't be literary, or they can't move from an open mic performance, if you think you can't move from there to there, you can. Let me be an example.'

He also spoke of his process and how Peepal Tree was able to support him in a way larger publishers cannot, 'I said there should be nothing in me by the time I've finished. It was a process of letting go of what anybody expects, what can happen. The publisher was saying with the new poems they keep on getting better and better so keep on going, you have until this hour on this day. We went to the last possible minute and because they are a small publisher and they can turn it around quickly, I was allowed to take it to the wire. The title poem came on the last day.'

The absolutely stellar prize shortlist also included Jay Bernard, Sharon Olds, Fiona Benson, Ilya Kaminsky and Anthony Anaxagorou. As the winner, Roger takes prize money of £25,000. This year, the prize also published Readers' Notes for each of the collections to facilitate reading by individual readers and reading groups.

A Portable Paradise was launched at an event at Tate Modern on 28 June, and published on 11 July. The prize was awarded at a glitzy ceremony last night at the Southbank Centre. You can watch videos of Roger and the other poets performing on the T.S. Eliot Prize website. Read reviews of all the shortlisted books by John Field.

More information

Read the news stories in The Guardian and The Bookseller for more information.

Listen to Roger Robinson perform 'Survivor (for the Grenfell Survivors)' on the BBC Late Junction Sessions podcast.

Listen to Ian McMillan's radio programme about this year's awards at the BBC (available from Friday 17 January 2020).

Read Roger's statement and acknowledgements on our website, and Jeremy Poyntin's full statement to The Bookseller (which was only partially used).

We have a living document of all the T.S. Eliot Prize-related coverage for posterity.

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