Roger Robinson’s poems of Trinidad and London won the Ondaatje prize and £10,000. His vision of Trinidad as a “portable paradise” of “white sands, green hills and fresh fish”, has won the British-Trinidadian poet the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje prize, which goes to a work that best evokes “the spirit of a place”.
Robinson’s collection, A Portable Paradise, which has already won him the TS Eliot prize, moves from the Grenfell Tower fire to the Windrush generation and the legacy of slavery. In its title poem, he writes how “if I speak of Paradise, / then I’m speaking of my grandmother / who told me to carry it always on my person, concealed, so / no one else would know but me”.
In particularly timely words for today, the poet, musician and political activist urges that “if your stresses are sustained and daily, / get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel, / hostel or hovel – find a lamp / and empty your paradise onto a desk: / your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.”
Robinson’s collection beat titles including Elif Shafak’s Booker-shortlisted novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, and Robert Macfarlane’s exploration of the world beneath our feet, Underland.
Prize judge and poet Pascale Petit, who is the only other writer to win the Ondaatje for a poetry collection, called A Portable Paradise a “healing” and “profoundly moving book [that] manages to balance anger and love, rage and craft”.
Robinson’s is only the second poetry book in 16 years to win the Ondaatje, which can go to a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry. Petit’s own Mama Amazonica was the first, in 2018.
(Source :UK Guardian)