Ray Antrobus. Photo: Tenee Attoh.

Congratulations to Raymond Antrobus, winner of the 2017 Geoffrey Dearmer prize with the poem ‘Sound Machine’. The Prize, which is awarded annually to a poem by a poet who hadn’t, at the time their work appeared, published a full collection, was judged this year by poet Ocean Vuong.

Raymond Antrobus said:  

I’m honoured. I’m a fan of Ocean Vuong’s poetry so that makes it even more special. ‘Sound Machine’ brings together multiple themes I’d been exploring the language of — grief, music, masculinity, the diaspora, deafness etc. To know I can bring all these elements to the same page and have that celebrated is a huge thing for me and my work.

I think it was Roger Robinson who encouraged me to read poems for their music, to understand poems as “scores of sound” and I’d written a sonnet sequence about my Dad, his records and parts of his soundsystem, which is literally all I inherited from him when he died. But the Shakespearean sonnets weren’t singing with the right energy, so I re-wrote them, keeping parts of the lines from the original draft. The end result, ‘Sound Machine’, was merging two drafts of sonnets together like a kind of fusing reminiscent of the way my Dad mixed his own dubs and how they fell on my ears.

Of the judging process and selecting the winning poem, Ocean Vuong said:

The Poetry Review’s Geoffrey Dearmer Prize 2017 is the first poetry prize I’ve judged in the UK, and I found the wealth of writing in this batch of poems so abundant, so wildly rich in styles and forms, that it was difficult to select the one winning poem without also acknowledging the many successful poems published this past year in The Poetry Review.

“Among these poems, however, it was Raymond Antrobus’s ‘Sound Machine’ that kept snagging me back to its emotionally textured and sonically charged wordscape. The poem gyrates through interrogations of grief and ancestry twinned with a brooded meditation on masculinity and selfhood, the gifts and burdens we inherit, despite ourselves, from our fathers. Hewn through the intersection of race, class, the canonical and the alternative, and garnering with it echoes of Derek Walcott, Natalie Diaz and Yusef Komunyakaa (particularly the latter’s ‘My Father’s Love Letters’), the poem is as much an ars poetica as it is a raison d’être for one’s very life – steeped in the essential question of how we choose our own paths without (completely) forsaking those who made us. At once stubbornly local and subtly expansive, the poem refuses to bask the past in nostalgia – but instead revisits its epicenters from the contemporary present, creating a simultaneity that sears and concusses – in ways, it feels, only poetry can.”

‘Sound Machine’ is be included in Ray Antrobus’s debut collection The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins),  which the poet describes as “a collection of poems that ranges across histories and continents… a book of loss, contested language (including sign language) and praise.”

The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize was established in 1998 in memory of The Poetry Society’s oldest member. It has an enviable record of rewarding poets who have subsequently become leading figures in contemporary poetry and have gone on to publish prize-winning collections. Winners include Paul Farley, twice winner of the Forward Prize twice, and winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the Whitbread Poetry Award; Kim Moore, winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Poetry 2016; and Kayo Chingonyi, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize 2018.

Raymond Antrobus is a Hackney-born British Jamaican poet, educator, editor and curator of the Chill Pill event series. His pamphlet, To Sweeten Bitter (2017), is published by Out-Spoken Press and his forthcoming debut, The Perseverance (2018) will be published by Penned in the Margins in October. He is a Complete Works III fellow and one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word education (Goldsmiths, University of London). He is also one of three current recipients of the Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. His poem, ‘Sound Machine’, first published in The Poetry Review, 107:1, Spring 2017, was the winner of the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize 2017, judged by Ocean Vuong.