Pascale Petit wins the inaugural Laurel Prize
‘Mama Amazonica stitches parallels between the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and a mother and daughter’s experience of mental illness. Alvi says: “We felt that in creating this duality she might have achieved what should have been impossible.” – Moniza Alvi, Judge, The Laurel Prize
Pascale Petit’s seventh poetry collection Mama Amazonica won the inaugural Laurel Prize, Poet Laureate Simon Armitage's new award that recognises and encourages the resurgence of nature and environmental writing currently taking place in poetry. The announcement was made at an online ceremony and reading held on the evening of National Poetry Day, 1 October 2020.
The judges were Simon Armitage, Robert Macfarlane and Moniza Alvi. The prize will be awarded annually for the best published collection of environmental or nature poetry. It is partly funded by Simon Armitage out of the £5,000 honorarium he receives annually from the Queen, and is run by the Poetry School.
The prize awards £5,000 (1st prize), £2,000 (2nd prize) and £1,000 (3rd prize). In addition, this year’s partner the UK’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are funding a commission for the three winners to write a poem inspired by the AONB closest to their heart.
An eleven book longlist was announced on 24 July, and the three-book shortlist on 25 August 2020. The order of the winners was revealed at an online prize ceremony on Thursday 1 October, National Poetry Day, 7.30pm, at which both Pascale Petit and Karen McCarthy Woolf were present. Karen was awarded second place for her collection Seasonal Disturbances, and Colin Simms third place for Hen Harrier.
Simon Armitage, Poet Laureate, commented on the 11-strong longlist:
“Reading these books has been a hugely uplifting and moving experience. The strength of the long list is testimony to the way that contemporary poetry is bearing witness to the fragile state of the planet and the importance of engaging with nature through detailed observation and considered language. These are collections that explore our deep and complex relationship with the world around us and our actions within it.”
Fellow judge Robert Macfarlane, poet & nature writer, comments:
'The Laurel Prize longlist gives the lie to any old, staid understandings of 'nature poetry'; the work here is singingly, variously alive to the complexities of modern nature, and to the experiences of hope, fear, wonder and horror in which our relations with the natural world are entangled.'
Pascale Petit's 2017 collection Mama Amazonica won the Royal Society of Literature's 2018 Ondaatje Prize for writing celebrating the spirit of a place. This was the first time in the prize's 15-year history that a poetry title won the award. Her eighth collection Tiger Girl, published on 3 September 2020 by Bloodaxe and shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection, explores her grandmother’s Indian heritage and the fauna and flora of subcontinental jungles, which are under threat from poaching and deforestation.
The three shortlisted titles were discussed in a special edition of Radio 3's The Verb on 18 September 2020. Judges Simon Armitage and Moniza Alvi talked about nature poetry with host Ian McMillan and judge of the Gingko Prize Jade Cuttle.
‘I think there is an ongoing metaphorical connection between the two main subjects of the book – a mother and a mother’s mental illness on the one hand, and the rainforest on the other… She explores the preciousness of both, and the dangers of both, and the mysteries of both. But there’s so much pity and compassion in this book - it’s incredibly redemptive… There’s so much at stake here in this book – they are two high stakes enormous issues in their own right, one very personal and one very political, and she manages to find this incredible equilibrium going back and forth between the two.’ – Simon Armitage, speaking about Mama Amazonica on Radio 3’s The Verb
Listen here: Mama Amazonica is discussed from 14:42.
Nilanjana Roy wrote about Pascale Petit’s Laurel Prize win in the Financial Times, online 14 October 2020.
‘The annual Laurel Prize is a new award, funded by Simon Armitage from his own honorarium as Poet Laureate, for the best collection of nature or environmental poetry. The inaugural winner, Pascale Petit, received the prize earlier this month, for Mama Amazonica, a remarkable collection of verse set in the Amazon rainforest and in a psychiatric ward… its themes — mental illness, the fragility of the natural world, the fissures in family life — seem to strike a chord with a younger generation searching for a reflective pause in their online lives.’ - Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
See photographs of the Peruvian Amazon on Pascale's blog here.
Mama Amazonica is set in a psychiatric ward and in the Amazonian rainforest, an asylum for animals on the brink of extinction. The book tells the story of Pascale Petit’s mentally ill mother and the consequences of abuse, as well as celebrating the beauty of the wild, whether in the mind or the natural world. It evokes the spirit of the Peruvian Amazon, informed by two trips Pascale made to the region in 2016. Photographs she took there are included in an interview with Pascale Petit in the March 2018 issue of The Compass magazine here.
Pascale was filmed speaking to Roehampton judge Nathalie Teitler about her 25-year obsession with the Amazon rainforest here.
[01 October 2020]