Winner of The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, 2021
Grace Nichols’ poetry has a gritty lyricism that addresses the transatlantic connections central to the Caribbean-British experience. Her work brings a mythic awareness and a sensuous musicality that is at the same time disquieting. Born and educated in Guyana, Grace Nichols moved to Britain in 1977. I Have Crossed an Ocean is a comprehensive selection spanning some 25 years of her writing, from I Is a Long-Memoried Woman (1983) to Startling the Flying Fish (2006), plus a selection of her poetry for younger readers. Her later collections are not covered by this selection: Picasso, I Want My Face Back (2009), The Insomnia Poems (2017) and Passport from Here to There (2020).
'Over the past four decades, Grace has been an original, pioneering voice in the British poetry scene. A noted reader and ‘performer’ of her work, she has embraced the tones of her adopted country and yet maintained the cadences of her native tongue. Her poems are alive with characters from the folklore and fables of her Caribbean homeland, and echo with the rhymes and rhythms of her family and ancestors. Song-like or prayer-like on occasion, they exhibit an honesty of feeling and a generosity of spirit. They are also passionate and sensuous at times, being daring in their choice of subject and openhearted in their outlook. Above all, Grace Nichols has been a beacon for black women poets in this country, staying true to her linguistic coordinates and poetic sensibilities, and offering a means of expression that has offered inspiration and encouragement to many. She is a moving elegist, and a poet of conciliation and constructive dialogue between cultures, but also a voice of questioning dissent when the occasion demands.' - Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate, on behalf of The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry Committee
‘Not only rich music, an easy lyricism, but also grit, and earthy honesty, a willingness to be vulnerable and clean’ – Gwendolyn Brooks.
‘Grace Nichols has wit, acidity, tenderness, any number of gifts at her disposal’ – Jeanette Winterson.
‘Grace Nichols came to Britain from Guyana at the age of 27 and she has carried the warmth of her Caribbean sensibility through many a cold English winter. Her poems celebrate sensuality and generosity and attack petty mean-spiritedness… Deeply Caribbean in sensibility, she writes sensitively of other traditions, especially Africa and India’ – Peter Forbes, Contemporary Writers.
‘From her first collection in 1983, I Is a Long-Memoried Woman, she has been a strong presence in the linguistic interweave between the Caribbean and the UK. Her poetry and prose move easily between the poised world of Western culture, Old World history and myth, and the gritty rhythms of the Caribbean everyday… There is wit, irony and passion…real poise’ – Michelene Wandor, Poetry Review
Grace Nichols reads two poems
Grace Nichols reads two of her best-known poems, 'Hurricane Hits England' (included on the GCSE English syllabus) and a poem for children (and cats), 'Cat-Rap', from I Have Crossed an Ocean. This is an excerpt from a film made by Pamela Robertson-Pearce of Grace Nichols' reading Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts in 2009, which also included 'Weeping Woman', her poem in the voice of Picasso's muse Dora Maar from Picasso, I Want My Face Back: that video can be viewed on that book's page on the Bloodaxe website.
Grace Nichols reads at the 2022 Newcastle Poetry Festival
Grace read ‘A Brief Odyssey’ from The Insomnia Poems, published in 2017. She then read several poems from her 2010 I Have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems - ‘Old Canecutter at Airport’, ‘Dust’, ‘Grease’, and ‘With Apologies to Hamlet’. Grace finished her reading with two poems from her 2020 collection Passport to Here and There: ‘Battle’ and ‘Atlantic’. Filmed by Peter Hebden. Special thanks to Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.
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