Shortlist for the 2016 Costa Poetry Award

Costa Poetry Shortlist

Melissa-Lee Houghton, Alice Oswald, Denise Riley and Kate Tempest are on this year’s Costa Poetry Award shortlist from a total of 73 entries judged by Jen Campbell, Kate Kellaway, and Andrew O’Hagan.

Sunshine by Melissa Lee-Houghton (Penned in the Margins)

Sunshine combines acute social observation with a dark, surreal humour born of first-hand experience.  Abuse, addiction and mental health are all subject to Lee-Houghton’s poetic eye.  But these are also poems of extravagance, hope and desire that stake new ground for the Romantic lyric in an age of social media and internet porn.  The poems in Sunshine emanate from lonely hotel rooms, psychiatric wards and the deserted lanes of austerity Britain as Lee-Houghton shines a light on the extremes of human experience, ecstasy and despair.

Melissa Lee-Houghton was born in 1982 in Wythenshawe, Manchester. Her first two collections were published by Penned in the Margins. Beautiful Girls (2013) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. In 2014 Melissa was recognised as a Next Generation Poet: one of twenty poets whose work will define the poetry landscape over the next decade. She subsequently toured across the UK and at Jaipur Literature Festival, India. In 2016 she was awarded a New Writing North Award for Fiction and her poem, ‘i am very precious’ – featured in Sunshine – was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. She lives in Blackburn, Lancashire.

Judges: “This collection is necessary, raw and hypnotic in its honesty.”


Falling Awake by Alice Oswald (Jonathan Cape Poetry)

Mutability – a sense that all matter is unstable in the face of mortality – is at the heart of this collection, and each poem is involved in that drama: the held tension that is embodied life, and life’s losing struggle with the gravity of nature.  Working as before with an ear to the oral tradition, these poems attend to the organic shapes and sounds and momentum of the language as it’s spoken as well as how it’s thought: fresh, fluid and propulsive, but also fragmentary, repetitive. These are poems that are written to be read aloud.

Alice Oswald lives in Devon and is married with three children. Her collections include Dart, which won the 2002 T S Eliot Prize, Woods etc. (Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize), A Sleepwalk on the Severn (Hawthornden Prize), Weeds and Wildflowers (Ted Hughes Award) and, most recently, Memorial, which won the 2013 Warwick Prize for Writing. ‘Dunt’, included in this collection, was awarded the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

Judges: “A sublime and mature work from a poet at the height of her powers.”


Say Something Back by Denise Riley (Picador)

Say Something Back reproduces A Part Song, a profoundly moving document of grieving and loss, and one of the most widely admired long poems of recent years. Elsewhere these poems become a space for contemplation of the natural world and of physical law, and for the deep consideration of what it is to invoke those who are absent. But finally, they extend our sense of what the act of human speech can mean – and especially what is drawn forth from us when we address our dead.

Denise Riley is a critically-acclaimed writer of both philosophy and poetry. She is currently Professor of the History of Ideas and of Poetry at UEA. Her visiting positions have included A D White Professor at Cornell University in the US, Writer-in-Residence at the Tate Gallery in London, and Visiting Fellow at Birkbeck College in the University of London. She has taught philosophy, art history, poetics and creative writing. Denise Riley lives in London.

Judges: “Robust in its fragility, it stops you in your tracks.”


Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest (Picador)

Let Them Eat Chaos, Kate Tempest’s long poem written for live performance and heard on the album release of the same name, is both a powerful sermon and a moving play for voices. Seven neighbours inhabit the same London street, but are all unknown to each other. The clock freezes in the small hours, and, one by one, we see directly into their lives: lives that are damaged, disenfranchised, lonely, broken, addicted, and all, apparently, without hope. Then a great storm breaks over London, and brings them out into the night to face each other – and their last chance to connect.

Kate Tempest was born in London in 1985.  Her work includes Wasted, Glasshouse and Hopelessly Devoted; the poetry collections Everything Speaks in its Own Way and Hold Your Own; the albums Everybody Down, Balance and Let Them Eat Chaos; the long poems Brand New Ancients and Let Them Eat Chaos; and her debut novel, The Bricks that Built the Houses.  She was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for her debut album, Everybody Down, and received the Ted Hughes Award and a Herald Angel Award for Brand New Ancients.  Kate was also named a Next Generation Poet in 2014.

Judges: “A magical book about now….indispensable, wonderful, a cry from the heart to a wounded world.”

The Costa Book Awards, formerly the Whitbread Book Awards, were established in 1971 to encourage, promote and celebrate some of the most enjoyable and best books published each year. The total prize fund for the Costa Book Awards – including the Costa Short Story Award – stands at £60,000. The award winners from the five categories – Novel, First Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book – each receive £5,000. The overall Costa Book of the Year is selected from the five category Award winners with the winner receiving a further £30,000. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in central London on 31st January, 2017.

To be eligible for the 2016 awards, books must have been first published in the UK or Ireland between 1 November 2015 and 31 October 2016. The 2015 Costa Book of the Year was The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books).


23 November 2016