The inaugural year for both the Melita Hume Poetry Prize and its organisers, the recently-founded London-based outfit Eyewear Publishing, has seen the first award go to Birmingham’s Caleb Klaces – previously a winner of the Eric Gregory Award and named a Granta New Poet – for his collection Bottled Air. The international prize recognises the best debut poetry collection from writers born in 1980 or later, with the winner garnering £1,000 and hardback publication by Eyewear in the near future.
This first year of the prize was judged solely by Tim Dooley, himself a poet and reviews editor of Poetry London, so anyone planning to enter next year is advised to 1) find out if Dooley is judging again and 2) start buttering him up as soon as possible. Entry was open to submissions of between 40 and 60 poems, or 50 and 80 pages.
Of Klaces’ winning book, Dooley said:
This is a powerful and original collection, which reveals its riches and depths gradually and rewards repeated reading. Klaces is well-read and does not wear his learning lightly, yet the poetry is not wilfully clever or self-satisfied but fully accessible – its engaging footnotes integrated into the wit and imagination of the whole work. Bottled Air works as a book not just a collection of poems. It evokes the tragic European past and the global instantaneous present. At its heart is a wounded compassion and an openness to the variousness of experience. What he writes in a poem from the central section (set in a Bulgarian orphanage) is true of much else in the book:
…this is what being human is really,
something plain and unbearably alive.
Klaces sets his own agenda as a writer but creates a trust in the reader, which is unusually well rewarded.
A runner-up prize of £100 was awarded to Colette Sensier for her collection Frogs and Gods, while two commendatory prizes of £50 apiece went to Jason Eng Hun Lee and Bethan Tichbourne for, respectively, Beds in the East and Somniloquy. No word as yet on how much goes to whoever discovers who the eponymous, seemingly un-Googleable Melita Hume actually is.