Mon 18 November 2019
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Jo Shapcott's Costa prize is a surprise victory for poetry
Who'd have thought it? For the second year in a row, poetry has triumphed at the Costas. Jo Shapcott's painful, plangent collection Of Mutability has tonight taken the title of Costa book of the year writes Sarah Crown

On the surface, it's a surprise result. In the first place, the prize tends not to favour poets when it comes to the final cut. The form had a good run back in the late 90s, when Seamus Heaney's victory for The Spirit Level was followed by Ted Hughes's double-header – for Tales from Ovid in 1997 and Birthday Letters in 1998. Since then, poetry has only scooped the prize once, and that was last year, when Christopher Reid won with his piercing exploration of grief following the death of his wife, A Scattering, meaning that the chances of a poetry collection winning again this year seemed slim. In the second place, Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes – a gloriously rich, burrowing investigation of the history of his collection of netsuke – was touted up until tonight as the firm favourite, and not without reason. As anyone who's read the book will agree, it's a remarkable achievement.

But there's something about Shapcott's collection that won't be denied. I first read the poems half a year ago, when I interviewed her for the Guardian Review, and was struck by them then. Conceived in the wake of Shapcott's 2003 diagnosis of breast cancer, they grapple not with the process itself but with the transformation it enacted on Shapcott's psyche; what she describes as her "changed sensibility" in the wake of a brush with mortality. "I've had to carry out reconstruction on my brain," she said at the time. "I've had to remake myself as a poet."

For the full article

The Guardian

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