Hannah Sullivan wins inaugural John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize

Oxford professor’s debut collection Three Poems has already won the TS Eliot Prize

Hannah Sullivan,  winner of the inaugural John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize at Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Iain White / Fennell Photography

Hannah Sullivan, winner of the inaugural John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize at Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Iain White / Fennell Photography

 

Hannah Sullivan was announced as winner of the inaugural John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize at Trinity College Dublin this evening.

This is the first year of the prize, which will be awarded on an annual basis to the author of an outstanding debut poetry book collection in the English language.

The €10,000 prize is sponsored by the John Pollard Foundation and administered by the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre in the School of English, Trinity. The patron of the foundation is Stephen Vernon, chairman of Green Property plc, who named it in memory of his grandfather, John Pollard.

Sullivan was awarded the prize for her debut collection Three Poems, which was published by Faber & Faber last year and recently won the TS Eliot Prize. Alhough each poem stands apart, their inventive and looping encounters make for a compelling unity. You, Very Young in New York captures a great American city, in all its alluring detail. It is a wry and tender study of romantic possibility, disappointment, and the obduracy of innocence. Repeat until Time begins with a move to California and unfolds into an essay on repetition and returning home, at once personal and philosophical. The Sandpit after Rain explores the birth of a child and the loss of a father with exacting clarity.

At the award ceremony this evening in Trinity, Prof Harry Clifton, a member of the judging panel, said of Three Poems: “It is our particular pleasure to award the prize, in this its inaugural year, to a work of poetry that seems, in the controlled expansiveness of its form, its unity of cosmopolitan flux with a hearkening back to roots, and its life-affirmation, to evoke the ghost of Louis MacNeice, who would, as Irishman and internationalist, have taken it totally to heart.”

Sullivan said: “It’s an incredible honour to be the first winner of a prize set up to consider a diverse body of work, but also admirably focused in its attention to first collections. I’m immensely grateful to the selection committee; they were set an impossible task! At a personal level, there’s a particular significance in being awarded an Irish prize. The last poem in Three Poems is about and for my father, who was born in London in 1950 to parents who had only recently arrived from Bantry in Co. Cork. He cultivated in me the sense that poetry was an important thing, something I might work at. And I’ve been especially indebted, I think, to some Irish poets: as a teenager to Yeats and the MacNeice of Autumn Journal and, as a woman writer, to Eavan Boland.

“Three Poems was a long time in the making (I had been writing poems for 20 years), interrupted by my academic job and having two children. If it hadn’t been for the encouragement of my editor, Matthew Hollis, I wouldn’t have even thought a debut consisting only of three long poems was possible. So it’s been extraordinarily heartening to have the book recognised by this prize for first collections, especially because of its international ambit. I wrote the first poem in Three Poems mostly on our kitchen table in San Francisco, and the last poem on the same table in London (it took a couple of years to be reunited with it), so the genesis of the book was a transatlantic one. I was also very surprised and had to read the email notifying me about the prize many times over. I’m extremely grateful to all the judges, to my hosts at Trinity College Dublin, and also to the prize’s donor.”

Sullivan lives in London with her husband and two sons and is an associate professor of English at New College, Oxford. Her study of modernist writing, The Work of Revision, was published in 2013 and awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy.

Chair of the selection committee Aileen Douglas, professor in English in Trinity, added: “This new award demonstrates the vitality and diversity of current poetry in English and features volumes from a range of publishers including small independent houses as well as university presses and long established commercial publishers. Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre has a rich tradition in creative writing and the nurturing of new talent. We are delighted to be associated with the Pollard Foundation and with this prestigious new international prize.”

Other members of the judging panel are Tim Dooley, tutor for The Poetry School, visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster, and an arts mentor for the Koestler Trust; and Tom Walker, Ussher Assistant Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity.

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