'It's really lovely for poetry': Cork poet shortlisted for £30k Costa Book Awards

Debut poet Victoria Kennefick’s ‘harrowing and hilarious’ collection explores all aspects of the body
'It's really lovely for poetry': Cork poet shortlisted for £30k Costa Book Awards

Poet Victoria Kennefick

Cork poet Victoria Kennefick has been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2021 for her work, Eat or We Both Starve.

She is joined in the poetry category by Raymond Antrobus for All the Names Given, Kayo Chingonyi with A Blood Condition, and The Kids by Hannah Lowe.

Kennefick spoke this morning about her win and says she is delighted for her own success and for the increased awareness of Irish poetry.

“It's really, really lovely news. I think it's really lovely for poetry, these awards are so important,” the Shanagarry native told RTE's Morning Ireland, adding she first fell in love with poetry through an anthology she stumbled upon.

“When I was younger and searching for meaning or for comfort or for a laugh I would search out fiction. I'm a great fan of fiction, I love reading all types of books. But I remember coming across a collection of poetry. It was an anthology, actually, and that's a great way to get started with poetry,” she says.

Poet Victoria Kennefick
Poet Victoria Kennefick

“I read a few poems and I remember that feeling of connection, that feeling of being seen, the relief in some way of somebody else going through something I was experiencing. I think we all feel that about poetry at weddings, or funerals, at christenings, during Covid.” 

Kennefick developed an eating disorder in her twenties and the debut poet’s ‘harrowing and hilarious’ collection explores all aspects of the body. She says the idea for Eat or We Both Starve came to her while she was studying abroad.

“I did a Fulbright scholarship in America when I was doing my PhD and I came across this title of a restaurant and it really stuck with me, that idea of how we're all interconnected. That idea of the way that we live our lives often oscillates between feast and famine, or between access and denial.

Victoria Kennefick's Eat Or We Both Starve
Victoria Kennefick's Eat Or We Both Starve

“I was really interested always in that tension between our bodies’ notion of feast and famine. We're going to eat a lot at Christmas and then obviously in January we'll have the dry black bread and sugarless tea that Patrick Kavanagh talks about, and we'll be beating ourselves up and trying to slim down. I think nature reflects that too.

“In some ways, we're always trying to engage with those feast and famine poles and I'm really interested in how an individual or how certain people deal with that and that brought me to look at the saints and martyrs as well in Catholic Ireland.” 

Kennefick, who lives in Co Kerry, says Irish people have always connected with poetry and she would like to see that reflected in our bookshops and on our shelves.

Victoria Kennefick
Victoria Kennefick

“We certainly read poetry and in Ireland we have a great love for poetry and a great appreciation for poetry, but maybe not always for our contemporary poets on the circuit bringing out their books. We have such great publishers here like Doire Press, Salmon and Dedalus Press that bring out such incredible poetry books and of course, Carcanet, my own publisher, is in the UK.

“I think it would be a really nice surprise to give yourself, to try a poetry book. It might encourage our wonderful bookshops to stock more of our poetry books, too. We don't have a promotional budget like some of the bigger genres.” 

Winners will be announced on Tuesday, January 4. Each category winner will receive £5,000 and the overall winner of the 2021 Costa Book of the Year will be announced on February 1 and will receive £30,000. 

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