Brass Neck by Victoria Naa Takia Nunoo was the winner of the RL Poetry Award Winner 2018.
Usually, there would be two winners; one from India, and the other from anywhere outside India.
On shortlisting, we asked participants to submit a statement on “Why they Deserve to Win?”
Here’s the statement by Victoria Naa Takia Nunoo, which we are disclosing for the first time because it means a lot to our efforts.
1. What does the RL Poetry Award mean to me?
A long time ago, I saw a tweet that said/implied that for an African writer to make it [as a recognized published writer], they would have to have been born outside [abroad], schooled abroad, or lived abroad. This tweet hit me hard in my face. I found myself asking the question, “Will I ever be published?”
I have never been abroad – except to Togo, where my maternal grandparents are from (if that even qualifies as abroad). I have never lived or schooled abroad to have this ‘right’ of a greener writing pasture. The tweet came at a time when I was reading and searching for publishing opportunities online. I hit a lot of walls. I gave up for several months. It was during this fallow period I saw a call for submissions for the RL Poetry Award 2017. I entered my poems with no expectations. When I saw the shortlist announcement on Twitter, I was in shock. It was a Sunday, no one was home to pinch me back to reality. When I was able to speak, I said, “I made it”. I kept repeating to myself, “I made it”, “I made it, oh my God!”
This prize, this award, means an agonizing lot to me. It is everything to me!
2. How can it help my writing career?
Like every writer, my dream is to get published. I have always imagined what Yellow Tulips would look like, how it would feel in my hands, in someone else’s hands, knowing that it is the fruit of the farm I tilled. But it doesn’t just end there for me. It isn’t just about seeing Yellow Tulips on the shelf. It is also about the opportunities for growth I will get as a published poet. Winning this prize is just the first step towards what and who I truly want to be.
3. Why should I win this?
It’s 02:45 as I am typing this. Dawn is the truth. I am tempted to say, “maybe I shouldn’t win this, I am not better than the other writers.” To have made it to the shortlist is even a huge success for me. But deep down, I know I want this more than anyone else.
I want this so I can tell myself, “don’t believe and commit to mind/heart everything you read online”
I want this to be able to say, “I am African, I have never lived or schooled abroad, here’s my published book, sniff the greatness out of it.”
I want to win this and bring it home for all those awesome and passionate young African writers I know. And to be able to say to them, “We can still make it, right in the discomfort of home.”
NOTE by JUDGE
Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
Reading Brass Neck, one thinks of Whitman’s passion for the body and insistence that one’s on the connection of all of our bodies, our voices, our pain and pleasure. Of course, Whitman wasn’t the first to give us the poetics of the body. The poems of this book make one think of Sappho and Catullus as much as they do of Whitman. And, yet, it is Walt’s “barbaric yawp on the rooftops of the world” that echoes so much into our own era. One thinks of Orhan Veli of Turkey and Anna Swir of Poland, Israel’s Yona Wollach and many others who have responded to his call. The author of Brass Neck responds as well. There is a large embrace of erotic and ecstatic impulses in this work. At their best, the poems in Brass Neck contain epigrammatic quality that is memorable in its reach for the tonal largesse: “home is the chaos / where you feel / most alive.” One is moved by the terrible pain and utter betrayal of girlhood in that many poems in this book showcase. And, at the same time, one is also surprised and compelled by the author’s uplift, by the unexpected tonalities, humor. This is a poet to watch.
Updated: January 27, 2020