An article by Andre Bagoo for Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday.
KEI MILLER – winner of one of the world’s most prestigious poetry prizes – has complained about the lack of diversity in British poetry.
In an interview with the Trinidad podcast series The Spaces Between Words, Miller, the first black winner of the Forward Prize, says St Lucian poet Derek Walcott should have won the prize long before Miller did in 2014.
“After winning the Forward Prize there are all these questions of what does it feel like to be the first person of colour to win the Forward Prize,” Miller says in the podcast, recorded during the 2015 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and released last week. “I just did not know what they wanted me to say. (It) does not mean that I did well. (It’s) a reflection of how screwed up you are as a society.
Why should I feel good about being the first person of colour to win?” Miller says Walcott was unjustly denied the prize — which carries a purse of GBP 10,000 — over the years.
“Derek Walcott should have won it several times over,” the Jamaican poet says. “The last time he should have won it he was not shortlisted.
The judge famously said that his poetry was too flowery.” Miller says the lack of black prize-winners was not a true measurement of the quality of the work of black writers.
“(It’s) a weird thing,” the poet, who lives in the UK, says.
“It just makes you think about the kinds of voices you (as a society) have not been listening to, that have always been valid, always been interesting.
So there is a weird pain with winning as well. Because you are making it sound like this is the first time something worthy came along and this is not the first time something worthy came along.
I feel weird being the spokesperson….
the British poetry landscape has just refused to hear certain voices.” Miller is the author of The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, A Light Song of Light, There Is an Anger That Moves, and Kingdom of Empty Bellies. He is also a novelist, essayist, short-story writer and editor.
On how winning the Forward Prize has impacted his career, Miller says, “It’s changed things profoundly.
I don’t know if it’s changed me in any way. Probably it has. In practical ways it’s changed things.” Kei Miller