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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Deaf poet Raymond Antrobus wins Ted Hughes prize

Date: 3/4/2019
Summary: After fiercely challenging Ted Hughes’s description of deaf children as “alert and simple” in a poem in his first collection, the deaf spoken-word poet Raymond Antrobus has won the Ted Hughes award for poetry.

The 33-year-old British Jamaican, who has performed at Glastonbury and also works as a teacher, has received the £5,000 prize for his debut The Perseverance. Described as “compelling” in the Guardian, the collection touches on family life, particularly the death of Antrobus’s father, his diagnosis with deafness as a small child, and his biracial heritage. It has also been longlisted for this year’s Folio prize.

The poems often explore the nature of deafness, such as Dear Hearing World, which describes the discrimination Antrobus has encountered in the education system: “I was a broken speaker, you were never a broken interpreter.” He also details his protracted diagnosis, which he finally received aged six, recalling in the poem Echo how he could not hear the final syllable of his surname and pronounced it as “Antrob”: “And no one knew what I was missing / until a doctor gave me a handful of Lego / and said to put a brick on the table / every time I heard a sound.”

He once told the BBC of this period: “I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I was slow to start walking. No one knew why this was happening until a phone started ringing in my mum’s house and my mum said I was completely oblivious to this phone. She just looked at me and she looked at the phone ringing and she heard it really loudly and I was completely unmoved, I didn’t react.”

The Perseverance also includes an entirely redacted poem, Deaf School, by Hughes, in which he described the children as: “Their faces were alert and simple / like little animals, small night lemurs caught in the flashlight.” In a process he has described as “cathartic”, Antrobus erased Hughes’s poem with thick black lines, then responded with a poem of his own: “Ted is alert and simple. / Ted lacked a subtle wavering aura of sound / and responses to Sound.

The judges of the prize praised Antrobus. The poet Clare Shaw called his book “universally relevant”, while fellow poet Linton Kwesi Johnson described it as “the most engaging collection of poems we have read in a long time”. And the Rev Canon Mark Oakley said Antrobus was “passionate but speaking from his scars not his wounds – this is a poet you sense very deeply that you can trust”.

Antrobus saw off competition from the Indian poet Tishani Doshi for Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, Birmingham’s Roy McFarlane for The Healing Next Time, Susan Richardson’s Words the Turtle Taught Me, and Hannah Sullivan, who won the TS Eliot prize last year for Three Poems.

Antrobus was presented with his award at a ceremony on Wednesday evening, alongside the poet Wayne Holloway-Smith, who was chosen from 14,000 entries to win the £5,000 national poetry competition for his poem The Posh Mums are Boxing in the Square.

Source: The Guardian

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