LOCAL poet Desirée Seebaran has won the poetry category of the Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2019.
In an article announcing the winners Wasafiri, UK’s leading magazine for international contemporary writing, praised Seebaran's poem Picong.
"‘Picong’ is a Trinidadian word for taunting, and this poem addresses the experiences of colourism and cruelty that are so insidious and ubiquitous, not only culturally but within families. Written in tight, controlled, and rhythmic verse, (British poet and poetry section judge) Warsan Shire called Picong ‘a beautifully written and important poem, honest and striking.’"
Seebaran told Newsday on Monday in a phone interview that winning was a shock.
"It took me several days to process it. I found out when someone on social media tagged me and said congratulations. I was confused, and then she directed me to the tweet where Wasafiri announced that I had won the poetry section.
"Of course, my family and close friends are thrilled. And I am happy and grateful, to the judges, to Wasafiri and to the I Am who speaks through me to write creatively. I’m aware that this now opens doors for more people to read and connect with the work I’m putting out, and I am very happy about that."
She also said the prize of £1,000 is going to be helpful as well.
"At least I won’t be a starving artist for a few months!"
The Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize was launched ten years ago to support new writers and in 2019 attracted a record-breaking number of entries from 46 countries. The prize money is £1,000 and winners will also be published in Wasafiri international writing magazine. There are five shortlisted writers each in the categories of fiction, life writing, and poetry. Seebaran had submitted five poems and Picong was the one chosen.
Picong features the repeated phrase "black and ugly," and Seebaran previously told Newsday while the poem is not autobiographical, she does remember being called "black and ugly" while in primary school as an insult.
"So I just started to write about that, about the different experiences that I have had and have heard other people have, where this lie is told to you and it is reinforced and it becomes part of your inner voice. And the repetition, which is a crucial part of the (Persian poetic form) ghazal, is important for that phrase. Because it is repeated to us over and over, in many different ways and forms by many different people who love you, as well as people who don't."
The New Writing Prize fiction category was won by Alicia Mietus with Third Person Female and the life-writing category by Ruby D Jones with Natural Causes. The winning entries will be published on Wasafari's website throughout this month.
Desirée Seebaran is a poet, writer and editor. Her work was short-listed for the 2014 Small Axe literary competition (poetry) and short-listed in Frontier Poetry's Award for New Poets Contest 2017.
She has had work published in Cordite Poetry Review 81 (May 2017) and by Anomalous Press, Moko Magazine and Interviewing the Caribbean journal in 2019.
Her chapbook manuscript Canal Water was chosen as one of three highly commended entries by judge Amy Wack in the 2018 PBS and Mslexia Women’s Pamphlet Competition.