The Queen’s Gold Medal in Poetry has been awarded to David Constantine, a “long-awaited” award for a writer praised by poet laureate Simon Armitage for his “human” writing.
Constantine is the 51st winner of an award for excellence in poetry dating back to 1933 and includes Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and WH Auden among its previous winners. Poet, translator, and novelist, Constantine published his first collection, A Brightness to Cast Shadows, in 1980. His eleventh, Belongings, was published in October.
“Above all else, David Constantine is a ‘human’ poet, a word often used in connection with his work, as if by noticing and detailing the shapes of the world he is doing so on behalf of all the best in us” said Armitage, who received the medal in 2018 and who, as the current poet laureate, chaired the committee that elected Constantine.
Constantine said he was “completely overwhelmed” when Armitage informed him of his victory. “These last few days I have been thinking about the many people, living and dead, who have accompanied me in the writing of my poems. It has made me even more grateful for this generous award, ”he said. “The type of poetry I write and have written since I was 16 has depended almost entirely on people: having people around me that I wanted to write about, or who encouraged me, who I loved or who loved me. That has become very, very clear now: how people I consider touchstones of what I should try to be have helped me along the way. “
He pointed to his grandmother, whose husband was murdered on the Somme. “She wasn’t able to talk about it until the end of her life and I was the person she talked to about it, and suddenly I knew what my responsibility was to try to do.” He wrote about his grandfather in the poem In Memoriam 8571 Private JW Gleave, in his first collection.
Constantine said he was very touched by being described as human. “People think that poetry is deeply unpleasant and not their cup of tea. But the matter of poetry is humanity. It is who we are and our relationships with the world around us, which is becoming increasingly catastrophic, ”he said.
“A lot of things are going wrong right now, so seriously wrong. I don’t think poetry can correct it; proper human policy could begin to correct it. But poetry goes on saying what it is that we risk losing, what we are losing, and what we could do about it. It is a celebration of things that are threatened, things without which life is not worth it ”.
Constantine was one of the first poets to be published by the small Bloodaxe press in 1980. His publisher Neil Astley said that he “knew immediately from reading his first manuscript that he was dealing with a poet whose distinctive tone and voice were fully formed and very different from of any other person. , but steeped in the lyrical and narrative traditions of English and European poetry, and most importantly, informed by a generous spirit and a deeply humane and compassionate view of the world.
“His poetry has a remarkable unity of thought and feeling, formally exact but free, very musically and rhythmically adventurous at the same time,” Astley said. “The recognition he has received through the award is well deserved and long overdue.”
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