Bhanu Kapil has won the most valuable award in British poetry, the TS Eliot prize, for her “radical and arresting” collection How to Wash a Heart, in which she depicts the uncomfortable dynamics between an immigrant and her white, middle-class host.
In the collection, Kapil’s immigrant guest addresses her liberal host, exploring how “it’s exhausting to be a guest / In somebody else’s house / Forever”. It beat works by poets including JO Morgan and Natalie Diaz to the £25,000 prize, which counts among its former winners Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney.
Chair of judges, the poet Lavinia Greenlaw, said How to Wash a Heart had been chosen unanimously by the panel – herself and the poets Mona Arshi and Andrew McMillan.
“It’s formidable,” Greenlaw said of How to Wash a Heart. “It has extraordinary, uncomfortable dynamics within it, but it’s a really invigorating, and testing, read. We are aware all the time that these figures are emblematic, and that they’re speaking to universal tensions within what feels to some like an act of generosity, and feels to those receiving it far more complicated.”