Bloodaxe’s most effective achievements in promoting inclusivity in current poetry have been achieved through collaborations with Newcastle University, The Complete Works and the Poetry Translation Centre.
JAMES BERRY POETRY PRIZE
Launched in 2021, the James Berry Poetry Prize is Britain’s first and only poetry prize offering both expert mentoring and book publication by Bloodaxe for young or emerging poets of colour.
The first winners of the James Berry Poetry Prize were Kaycee Hill, who was mentored by Malika Booker; Majorie Lotfi, mentored by Mimi Khalvati; and Yvette Siegert, mentored by Mona Arshi. The judges were Neil Astley, Theresa Muñoz, Sinéad Morrissey, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Nathalie Teitler. Kaycee Hill’s debut Hot Sauce and Marjorie Lotfi’s The Wrong Person to Ask were published in 2023, with Yvette Siegert’s debut to follow later.
Open for submissions in April 2024, the second James Berry Poetry Prize will have Neil Astley, Imtiaz Dharker, Major Jackson, Theresa Muñoz and Nathalie Teitler as judges, and Patience Agbabi, Karen McCarthy Woolf and Jacob Sam-La Rose as mentors. Run in partnership with Newcastle University, the prize is free to enter and open to Black and minority ethnic poets who have not published a book-length collection, with special consideration given to LGBTQ+/disabled poets and poets from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. The prize is open for submissions from 1st April to 31st July 2024. The three equal winners of the second James Berry Poetry Prize will each receive year-long mentoring during 2024-25 plus £1000 and publication of their debut book length collections with Bloodaxe in 2026.
The prize is part of an inclusivity project devised for Bloodaxe by diversity specialist Nathalie Teitler with Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo whose own debut poetry book Lara is published by Bloodaxe.
The naming of the prize honours James Berry, OBE (1927-2017), one of the first black writers in Britain to receive wider recognition. He emigrated from Jamaica in 1948, and took a job with British Telecom, where he spent much of his working life until he was able to support himself from his writing. He rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition. His numerous books included two seminal anthologies of Caribbean-British poetry, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (Chatto & Windus, 1981), and A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), drawing on five earlier collections including Hot Earth Cold Earth (Bloodaxe Books, 1995) and Windrush Songs (Bloodaxe Books, 2007) which was published to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts (NCLA) at Newcastle University received special funding from Arts Council England to run the inaugural James Berry Poetry Prize as a pilot project in partnership with Bloodaxe Books. The 2024 James Berry Poetry Prize is supported by an uplift in Bloodaxe’s Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation funding for 2023-26 designated for inclusivity projects, with Dr Theresa Muñoz at Newcastle University managing the prize under a new partnership arrangement.
The James Berry Poetry Prize builds on the legacy of the ten-year Complete Works mentoring scheme.
THE COMPLETE WORKS
In 2008 the level of poets of colour published by major presses was less than 1%. By 2020 it was over 20%. The Complete Works Poetry – an initiative spearheaded by Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo and managed by Nathalie Teitler – played a significant role in this change.
Supporting 30 poets from 2008 through to 2020, The Complete Works produced an unprecedented number of prizewinners, including the Forward Prizes (3), T.S. Eliot Prize (2), Ted Hughes Award (2), Somerset Maugham Award, Dylan Thomas Prize, Rathbones Folio Prize and Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. TCW Fellows have also gone on to judge every major poetry award, and to take on significant roles in academia and translation, publishing over 40 collections.
Bloodaxe co-published three anthologies under the title Ten showcasing each group of ten poets (2010, 2014, 2017) with The Complete Works, followed by Mapping the Future: The Complete Works Poets (2023), an anthology edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Nathalie Teitler of new or recent work by all 30 writers supported by the programme, also including highly personal and politically engaged essays re-drawing the map of British poetry by 10 of the 30 poets, touching on some of the most significant topics of our time.
This video features these poets reading their poems from Mapping the Future: Leo Boix, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Ian Humphreys, Degna Stone, Rishi Dastidar, Adam Lowe, Eileen Pun, Rowyda Amin, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Denise Saul, Seni Seneviratne and Inua Ellams.
Bernardine Evaristo talks about the cultural importance of The Complete Works, which she founded, and the anthology Mapping the Future, drawing on the Foreword she wrote for the book.
Bloodaxe Books has had a continuing partnership with Newcastle University over two decades which has included programming and publishing the Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures, and books of essays on Elizabeth Bishop and Barry MacSweeney. Two educational outreach projects led to joint publication of anthologies of poetry relating to illness and ageing, The Poetry Cure and Don't Bring Me No Rocking Chair. The book and schools outreach project Out of Bounds: British Black & Asian Poets (book 2012, digital project 2019) presented a new map of Britain by its Black and Asian poets, and The Mighty Stream: poems in celebration of Martin Luther King (2017) was published as part of Newcastle’s Freedom City celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr King being given an honorary doctorate in law by Newcastle University in 1967. The James Berry Poetry Prize was launched by Bloodaxe and Newcastle University in 2021.
In 1995 Bloodaxe's founding editor Neil Astley was given an honorary DLitt for his work with Bloodaxe by Newcastle University. In 2009 Professor Linda Anderson, OBE – now Bloodaxe's chair – founded Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts (NCLA) at Newcastle University where she was Head of the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics for a decade. She later founded Newcastle Poetry Festival. The board of Bloodaxe Books also includes two Bloodaxe poets of long-standing, Professor Bill Herbert from Newcastle University and Imtiaz Dharker, Chancellor of Newcastle University.
Newcastle University acquired the archive of Bloodaxe Books in 2013 and has established the state-of-the-art Bloodaxe Archive offering users innovative ways of exploring the archive online. Newcastle University's Robinson Library also holds the archives of several writers published by Bloodaxe including Moniza Alvi, Sid Chaplin, Jack Common, David Constantine, Selima Hill, Roddy Lumsden, Barry MacSweeney, Jack Mapanje, William Martin, Sean O'Brien and Rosemary Tonks. Another product of Bloodaxe’s partnership with Newcastle was the Bloodaxe Poetry App, devised by Pete Hebden and released in 2018 (downloadable for Android and iPhone from app stores).
POETRY TRANSLATION CENTRE
Bloodaxe’s innovative partnership with The Poetry Translation Centre began in 2014 with the publication of Sarah Maguire’s multilingual anthology My Voice: A Decade of Poems from the Poetry Translation Centre. This extraordinary compilation includes 111 poems translated from 23 different languages (ranging from Arabic to Zapotec: all the original scripts are included) by 45 of the world’s leading poets.
Sarah Maguire founded the Poetry Translation Centre ten years earlier in 2004 to introduce new audiences to leading poets from around the world, as well as better understand and celebrate the diverse communities who have made their home in the UK. The PTC focusses on poetry from Africa, Asia and Latin America, working collaboratively with poets and translators to bring new work to English-speaking audiences in the UK. International poets they have worked with include Coral Bracho (Mexico), Mohan Rana (India) and Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi (Sudan).
Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi’s A Monkey at the Window, translated from Arabic by Mark Ford and Sarah Maguire (2016), was the first in a continuing series of dual language editions of poets co-published by Bloodaxe with the Poetry Translation Centre, and a further testament to the legacy of Sarah Maguire, who died in 2017. The other poets so far featured in the PTC/Bloodaxe series are Diana Anphimiadi (Georgia), Azita Ghahreman (Iran/Sweden), Legna Rodríguez Iglesias (Cuba/USA), Laura Wittner (Argentina) and Asha Lul Mohamud Yusuf (Somalia/UK).
The poet-translators working with these authors have been Jean Sprackland, Maura Dooley, Abigail Parry, Juana Adcock and Clare Pollard.
Translation is the lifeblood of poetry. The Poetry Translation Centre’s work continues to enrich the English poetic tradition, encouraging poets to form friendships across borders. Their projects support the many cultures living side by side in the UK, especially those that have been sidelined or misunderstood. By making diverse poetries at home in English they celebrate the UK’s many literary traditions, and invite everyone to play a role in British cultural life.
PTC’s translations begin at their regular workshops in London, where poets, translators and poetry enthusiasts work towards new English versions of poems, starting with a literal or ‘close’ translation. These workshops are also where new poets are discovered and new collaborations formed. The final version of each poem is completed either in the workshops themselves or by pairs of English-language poets and translators invited to work in partnership.
The PTC’s website is a free archive of international poetry. The final version of each poem translated is shown alongside the original language text, the literal translation and notes on the process, making the translations completely transparent. The PTC also creates dual-language recordings of the poems so that everyone can experience the poems in their original language.
The PTC publishes chapbooks under its own imprint as well as full-length books with Bloodaxe. They have also regularly brought international poets to the UK for tours, starting with their first World Poets Tour in 2005, and featuring all the poets included in the PTC/Bloodaxe series of dual language editions, the latest being Laura Wittner from Argentina in 2024.
Both Bloodaxe Books and the Poetry Translation Centre are supported using public funding as Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations. The publication of a number of Bloodaxe’s translations – including Asha Lul Mohamud Yusuf’s The Sea-Migrations and books by Yang Lian, Luljeta Lleshanaku and Maria Stepanova – have been supported with additional funding from English PEN.