Jamaican poet Jason Allen-Paisant’s Self-Portrait as Othello wins TS Eliot prize | Books

Jamaican poet Jason Allen-Paisant’s Self-Portrait as Othello wins TS Eliot prize | Books

Jamaican poet Jason Allen-Paisant has won this year’s TS Eliot prize for Self-Portrait As Othello, his collection exploring Black masculinity and immigrant identity.

Allen-Paisant was announced as the winner of the £25,000 award during a ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London.

“Self-Portrait As Othello is a book with large ambitions that are met with great imaginative capacity, freshness and technical flair,” said the judging panel, made up of the poets Paul Muldoon, Sasha Dugdale and Denise Saul.

The book – Allen-Paisant’s second collection, published by Carcanet Press – won the Forward prize for best collection in October and has been shortlisted for the Writers’ prize, the award previously known as the Rathbones Folio prize. It was also named one of the Guardian’s best poetry books of 2023.

“As the title would suggest, the poetry is delivered with theatricality and in a range of voices and registers, across geographies and eras,” added the judges. “It takes real nerve to pull off a work like this with such style and integrity. We are confident that Self-Portrait as Othello is a book to which readers will return for many years.”

In Self-Portrait As Othello, Allen-Paisant draws a connection between Shakespeare’s Othello, a Moorish general who is often treated as an outsider in Venice, and the experiences of Black immigrants today. His poems move between Jamaica, Prague, Paris and Oxford among other places, and he weaves in lines of French, Jamaican patois, Italian and German.

The collection offers a “deep, generous interrogation of masculinity, and a linked elevation of the maternal that is at the heart of so many Caribbean and other families”, wrote Fiona Sampson in the Guardian. “Enriched by historical research, Self-Portrait As Othello celebrates representation, understanding and speech as acts of glorious resistance.”

Allen-Paisant is a senior lecturer in critical theory and creative writing at the University of Manchester. His first collection, Thinking With Trees, was published in 2021. His non-fiction book, Scanning the Bush, will be published in 2024. He lives in Leeds with his wife and two children.

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Other poets that made the 10-strong shortlist for this year’s prize include Kit Fan for The Ink Cloud Reader, Jane Clarke for A Change in the Air and Sharon Olds for Balladz.

The TS Eliot prize was established in 1993. Previous winners include Ted Hughes, Don Paterson, Carol Ann Duffy and Ocean Vuong. The 2022 winner was Anthony Joseph for his collection Sonnets for Albert.

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