In awarding the Prize, judge Bill Manhire said: “I like the way the poems deal with the difficulties of identity and orientation without becoming noisily theatrical or, worse, complacent. A poem such as ‘The Word’ is deftly made. You notice fairly soon that it’s a sonnet with a rusty hinge in the middle (a diptych then?), presumably there to make visible the “two minds” that the poem describes. Likewise, the way the poem rides on its half rhymes captures the “half right, half / wrong” place to which the text finds its way.
To mention such formal pleasures is perhaps to imply that ‘The Word’ is an over-managed piece of writing – tidy, pre-determined, just a bit too settled in its understandings. But that’s not the effect at all. Kunial’s voice is quiet, hesitating, tongue-tied even. His poems’ intellectual and emotional positions are, I suppose, ‘post-colonial’ – “beyond the boundary, / in [the] edgeland of central England”, as ‘Fielder’ puts it, but the writer I’m most reminded of is Thomas Hardy. As with Hardy, awkwardness grants a kind of calming grace to difficult contemplation. A very different poet, Anne Carson, says that “a page with a poem on it is less attractive than a page with a poem on it and some tea stains” – and that’s perhaps another way of explaining why I have chosen Kunial’s poems for this award.” (from The Poetry Review 105:2)
Zaffar Kunial’s winning poems were first published in The Poetry Review, 104:3, Autumn 2014, edited by Maurice Riordan. A new poem, ‘Jane Austen: Selected Letters’, was published 105:2 in celebration of Zaffar’s prize.
Zaffar Kunial published a pamphlet in the Faber New Poets series in 2014 and was Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust the same year. In 2011 he won third prize in the National Poetry Competition with ‘Hill Speak’. With Steve Ely, Denise Riley and Warsan Shire, he contributed to The Pity, a series of new poems commissioned and published by the Poetry Society as a response to the centenary of the First World War. The Pity commissions were premiered live at Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, on 2 October, National Poetry Day, 2014, accompanied by background visuals by Robert Peake. The poems are now available as a book, available from The Poetry Society online shop.
Bill Manhire is a New Zealand poet, short story writer, professor, and New Zealand’s inaugural Poet Laureate. His Selected Poems is published by Carcanet.