Posted: 27 January 2011
Poet Jo Shapcott has won the 2010 Costa Book of the Year for her collection Of Mutability, her first new work in over a decade and in part influenced by her experience of breast cancer.
In Of Mutability, Shapcott is found writing at her most memorable and bold. In a series of fresh, unflinching poems, she movingly explores mortality and the nature of change: in the body and the natural world, and in shifting relationships between people. By turns grave and playful, arresting and witty, the poems in Of Mutability celebrate each waking moment as though it might be the last and, in so doing, restore wonder to the smallest of encounters.
Jo Shapcott was born in London in 1953 where she still lives. Her Book: Poems 1988-1998 (2000), consists of a selection of poetry from her three earlier collections: Electroplating the Baby (1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Best First Collection; Phrase Book (1992), and My Life Asleep (1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). She has also won the National Poetry Competition twice.
The judges said: "These strong poems are rooted in the poet's experience of breast cancer but are all about life, hope and play. Fizzing with variety, they are a paean to creativity and make the reader feel that what matters to us all is imagination, humanity and a smile."
Chair of judges Andrew Neil revealed that the judges had felt "a lot of anguish" over awarding the prize to a collection of poems for the second year running: "There was quite a lot of robust argument over choosing a poetry book - many wanted to prefer a novel."
Of Mutability, published by Faber and Faber, is the seventh collection of poetry to take the overall prize, and the second year in a row in which poetry has scooped the top prize after Christopher Reid's A Scattering won last year. Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won nine times by a novel, four times by a first novel, five times by a biography, seven times by a collection of poetry and once by a children's book.
Stephen Page, Faber c.e.o. and publisher said at the awards that he was "surprised and delighted" at Shapcott's win. He added: "This is a win for us, this is a win for poetry. It's extraordinarily uplifting that the Costa's would recognise poetry two years in a row.
"Poetry can reach a large audience, like Seamus Heaney's Human Chain which we published the hell out of last year. We think Jo has the potential to reach that kind of audience."
Of the five category winners, Shapcott beat bookies' favourite Edmund de Waal's memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes (Chatto), novelist Maggie O'Farrell's The Hand That First Held Mine (Headline Review), debut writer Kishwar Desai's Witness the Night (Beautiful Books) and debut children's author Jason Wallace's Out of Shadows (Andersen).