Hong Kong-born poet’s TS Eliot prize win ‘will change British poetry’

Sarah Howe’s debut collection ‘absolutely amazing’, says chairman of judges for HK$225,000 award. Winning poems chart poet’s journeys back to Hong Kong to rediscover her roots in city where she was born to an English father and Chinese mother

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 January, 2016, 3:23pm

A Hong Kong-born poet, who judges say “will change British poetry”, has won the TS Eliot poetry prize. Sarah Howe , a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute, was awarded the £20,000 (HK$225,000) prize for Loop of Jade, which explores her dual British and Chinese heritage.

Howe’s poems chart the journeys she made back to Hong Kong to rediscover her roots. Her work – the first debut poetry collection to win the British prize since it was inaugurated in 1993 – triumphed over a particularly strong shortlist, which featured some of poetry’s biggest names, including Don Paterson , Claudia Rankine , Sean O’Brien and Les Murray .

Howe was born in Hong Kong to an English father and Chinese mother, and moved to England as a child.

Pascale Petit, the poet who chaired the panel of judges, said that 32-year-old Howe’s work was “absolutely amazing” and that her experimentations with form would “change British poetry”.

“She is exploring the situation of women in China, but she doesn’t do it just like that; she does it in a very erudite and dense, rich, imagistic way,” Petit says.

Especially impressive were Howe’s different and daring forms of poetry, and her powerful use of blank space, says Petit.

“People will find it accessible, but it will need rereading,” she adds. “That is one of its strengths. It doesn’t matter how often you read it, there is more in it. It is very rich and really does speak to what is going on today with the status of women in the world.”

The award was presented on Monday at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. “It is absolutely amazing that it is her first book,” says Petit. “It plays wildly with form, and at the same time it is dealing with very topical and difficult subjects – and from a culture which we are not used to seeing in British poetry.”

She has already won the 2015 Sunday Times young writer of the year award, while scientist Stephen Hawking read her poem Relativity for Britain’s National Poetry Day .

Organised by the Poetry Book Society, the TS Eliot prize was funded and presented by Eliot’s widow, Valerie, until her death in 2012. It is now maintained by the poet’s estate.

The Guardian