What's changed? Eric Gregory poets a year on

07 June 2019 What's
Photo © Sharon McCutcheon

The Eric Gregory Awards are given to a collection of poems – published or unpublished – by a poet under the age of 30, previously won by the likes of Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, Jackie Kay, Andrew Motion and Alice Oswald.

The idea is to encourage young poets and, as part of the annual Society of Authors’ Awards, help recognise the best and most promising voices of the year.

For the last few weeks we’ve been catching up with past winners across all our awards to see where they are now and the impact winning has had on their work, career and outlook. Here, we ask four Eric Gregory winners what's changed a year on from the celebrations.


Jenna Clake, author of Fortune Cookie, spoke of the opportunity the award gave her to pursue her fascination with cetacean behaviour – as she says:

“Receiving an Eric Gregory award has allowed me to pursue a project focusing on cetacean conservation and whaling, establishing a writing residency with ORCA. I’ve been able to form opportunities to travel, research, and collaborate with artists and experts in the cetacean behaviour. I’m excited about poetry that incorporates popular culture and technology, particularly poets who are focusing on using video games, AI technologies, and social media in their work – such as Stephen Sexton, Charlotte Geater, Franny Choi, Alex MacDonald. My current work explores some of these ideas by incorporating whale monitoring software, television programmes, and Instagram.”


Poet Joseph Eastell’s Blossom Boy Beta Test won the Eric Gregory, and here he speaks of the freedom and confidence it gave him:

“The Eric Gregory award has had a major effect on my writing. I never considered myself to be a decent poet before, so having that validation from other poets that I really respect gave me a huge boost of confidence. It also took a lot of pressure off from feeling like I had to rush into getting published. I’m really excited about poetry’s growing diversity of voices from different backgrounds; and the future of how we distribute and read poetry could be changing completely.”


Zohar Atkins won with System Baby, and ponders the idea of concept of literary recognition – saying:

“Antigonus of Socho teaches, ‘Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not upon the condition of receiving a reward; and let the awe of Heaven be upon you.’ While I am deeply grateful for the public recognition (and windfall) that an Eric Gregory Award affords, I write with Kleist’s long-view in mind: ‘To you reading this a thousand years from now, to your spirit, I bow.’ When it comes to poetic thought, it is important to believe in one’s project, independent of how it is received and validated in the present.”


Stephen Sexton, author of The animals, moon, looks forward to the lasting impact of the award of a community of poets, saying:

“One of the most thrilling things about receiving an Eric Gregory Award was looking back through the almost six decades of winners, and feeling in outstanding company with those poets, but also with those people who received an award the same time I did. A sense of community or bond of some kind is established, or maybe it isn’t and I’m too sentimental. Anyway, I’m excited to read the pamphlets and books and whatever else those people produce over the coming years, and to think about having met them then.

“And like the future, there’s any number of things to be excited about as far as poems go. I look forward to discovering the winners of the Eric Gregory this year and to getting to know their work. In the nearer future, I’m excited for the launches at the Belfast Book Festival of fine and marvellous pamphlets by Dawn Watson and Conor Clearly (The Emma Press), and by Caitlin Newby and Scott McKendry (Lifeboat Press). If you aren’t coming already, it’s a short flight.”


About the winners

Jenna Clake's debut collection, Fortune Cookie, was awarded the Melita Hume Prize and shortlisted for a Somerset Maugham Award. A pamphlet of her prose poems, CLAKE / Interview For, is published by Verve Poetry Press. In 2018, she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and was shortlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation Women Poets' Prize. Jenna is Writer in Residence for ORCA, exploring cetacean conservation. 

Joseph Eastell is a poet from Keighley, West Yorkshire. His collection Blossom Boy Beta Test won an Eric Gregory Award in 2018. He is currently working on the possibilities of publishing poetry on the Ethereum blockchain in his next collection, Coldshaw.

Zohar Atkins is a rabbi, poet, essayist, and theologian living in New York. He is the author of Nineveh (Carcanet, 2019) and Unframing Existence (Palgrave, 2018). He writes a weekly Torah commentary newsletter and is the Founder and Director of Etz Hasadeh: A Center for Existential Torah.

Stephen Sexton lives in Belfast, where he teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry.  His poems have appeared in Granta, POETRY, and Poetry Ireland Review. His pamphlet, Oils (Emma Press, 2014), was the Poetry Book Society’s Winter Pamphlet Choice. He was the winner of the 2016 National Poetry Competition and the recipient of an ACES award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. He received an Eric Gregory Award in 2018. A first book, If All the World and Love Were Young is shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and will be published by Penguin in August.


The 2019 Society of Authors' Awards

Learn more about the Society of Authors' Awards (including the Eric Gregory) and come along to this year's Awards at Southwark Cathedral on Monday 17 June.

Plus, who's been shortlisted this year?