Jay Bernard’s teenage poetry was terrible, something the award-winning poet is happy to admit.
The 31-year-old south Londoner began writing at school, printing out poems, stapling them together, and charging classmates £2 for a copy.
More than a decade later, Jay, who self-describes as non-binary, has won the 2018 Ted Hughes Award for Surge: Side A, an exploration of the New Cross Fire in 1981 – which killed 13 young black people in south-east London.
Jay’s poetry is personal and explores identity, politics, and what it means to be young and black in Britain.
According to Susannah Herbert of Forward Arts Foundation, which runs National Poetry Day and the Forward Prizes for Poetry, Jay is part of the changing face of poetry.
Ten or 15 years ago, Susannah says, the major UK publishers and booksellers knew little about the poetry audience and tended to assume “real” poetry was highbrow, niche, and plainly presented with no pictures or introductions.
But last year poetry book sales increased by £1.3m – and two-thirds of buyers were younger than 34, according to statistics from Nielsen BookScan.