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A volume of poetry published by new University of Liverpool and Liverpool University Press (LUP) outlet, Pavilion Poetry won the prestigious Forward Prize for Best First Collection.
Mona Arshi’s Small Hands, which draws on the writer’s decade as a human rights lawyer, was praised by the jury for its “imagination, sensuality and beguiling playfulness”.
Mona said: “It’s very humbling to win. The shortlist this year was so strong and so diverse, just as poetry should be.
“As a poet, you spend years crafting and honing the poems and the fact that highly esteemed judges take the care to read and carefully engage with your work and put it on a shortlist is gratifying enough.
“For them then to tell people, ‘this is vital work and needs reading’ makes all the effort worthwhile.”
Professor Deryn Rees-Jones, whose 2012 collection Burying the Wren was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize, is Pavilion Poetry’s Series Editor.
Professor Rees-Jones said: “There is an integrity to Mona’s writing and a deep sense too that poetry can take on serious issues – about grief, about gender and race and identity – in a way that allows us to know the world in complex and nuanced ways.”
The prize is a remarkable success for publisher Pavilion Poetry, which only launched in April. Mona’s collection was among the first three volumes released by Pavilion, alongside Sarah Corbett’s And She Was: A Verse Novel and Blood Child by Eleanor Rees.
Professor Rees-Jones said: “Establishing Pavilion Poetry as a serious poetry press has taken a huge collective effort, and Mona’s marvellous win is testimony to the trust and vision of the press and its long standing commitment to poetry.
“It’s a product too of the hard work by the students from the University’s Department of English, who worked closely with the press on the three first books as they evolved.
“I am really looking forward to continuing to work with both new and established poets in the coming years, as the profile of the press grows and we continue to develop our links with writers from across the world through the Centre for New and International Writing.”
Mona picked up the Felix Dennis Prize – and £5,000 – for Best First Collection. The Best Collection top prize was scooped by Claudia Rankine for her work Citizen: An American Lyric. It was described by judges as a “stylistically daring poetic project about the dehumanisation of those deemed outsiders”.
The University partnered with LUP to create Pavilion Poetry. LUP Director, Anthony Cond said: “The inaugural Pavilion Poetry collections add the wisdom of our academic colleagues, the dedication and enthusiasm of Liverpool students, and the skill and experience of the LUP team to the nascent talent of a new generation of poets.
“Mona Arshi’s richly-deserved success with Small Hands is a testament to the potency of that mix”
Mona added: “I am so grateful to Pavilion Poetry.
“To launch my debut with a new poetry press was such a huge honour – I am currently officially floating on a Liverpool Poetry cloud nine!”
Now in their 24th year, the Forward prizes are among the most prestigious literary awards in the UK and Ireland and aim to celebrate excellence in poetry and widen its audience.
Liverpool University Press was saved some years ago by Drummond and Vivian Bone. It is impressive what Anthony Cond has done to make this a jewel in the forehead of the University. Congratulations to all – if I, as an admirer, may say so
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