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Jeremy Poynting's full statement on Roger Robinson's T.S. Eliot Prize win

This is the full statement I sent to the Bookseller, not all of which was used. I wanted to stress that books like Roger's come out of a rich hinterland of deep connections -- and also to comment mildly on the Guardian's description of Peepal Tree as "tiny", though this is not as bad as labelling Roger a "dub poet", no problem in itself, but because it tends to be used as a limiting synonym for Black British poetry. Here's the statement.

Nothing happens out of the blue. There are always connections. We’ve been working directly with Roger Robinson as a publisher from around 2010 (we published his Butterfly Hotel in 2013), but indirectly the connection goes back another fifteen years to the mid 1990s. It connects to our publishing of Kwame Dawes’ Progeny of Air in 1994 (it won the Forward first book prize in that year), to Nii Ayikwei Parkes and to Malika Booker. Kwame Dawes (who is our associate poetry editor) ran a very influential Afro-Style poetry workshop programme in the mid 90s. It involved future important writers like Nii, Malika, Dorothea Smartt, Patience Agbabi, Bernardine Evaristo, Jacob Sam-La Rose, and Roger Robinson (and no doubt others I’ve forgotten). As publishers, we inherited Roger Robinson from Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ flipped eye publishing (from whom we also inherited Malika Booker). We also published Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ first collection, The Makings of You in 2010 (we’re publishing his The Geez this year) and followed it with Malika Booker’s Pepper Seed in 2013). The other crucial connection is Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a writers’ collective founded in 2001 by Malika, Roger Robinson and Jacob Sam-La Rose. Incidentally, Peepal Tree also published Bernardine Evaristo’s very first book (of poetry), Island of Abraham right back in 1994. But Peepal Tree has been publishing since 1985 (now over 450 books) and before poets like Kwame Dawes came along in 1992, there were important Caribbean poets like Cyril Dabydeen, Anthony Kellman, Rachel Manley, Ian McDonald and Velma Pollard on our lists.

What does the prize mean for Peepal Tree? Immediately, I hope some good sales. What I hope it signals in the longer term is that whilst the Empire has been speaking back for many decades, the metropolitan literary establishment is beginning to listen and that in some sectors of society, at least, we are starting to regard “diversity” not as some desirable add-on but as an essential quality of our culture. The prizes that have gone to Vahni Capildeo, Raymond Antrobus, Ocean Vuong and others are very gratifying, though I suspect that poetry has always been a more open territory in publishing because no seriously big money tends to be involved (which is why Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker prize is so significant). But then this is also the year of the triumph of a narrow kind of English nationalism, so no room for complacency.

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