Raymond Antrobus, a 33-year-old British Jamaican poet, has been awarded the Ted Hughes Award for poetry, despite the fact he strongly challenged Ted Hughes’ own poem which describes a class of deaf children as “alert and simple”. Antrobus won the award for his debut collection of poems called The Perseverance, which covers his struggles growing up deaf, the death of his father, and his biracial heritage.
The young poet works as a teacher and has performed at Glastonbury Festival. His winning of the Ted Hughes Award also sees him awarded with £5,000 and his debut collection has been longlisted for this year’s Folio prize. Many of his poems tackle the struggles deaf people encounter in everyday life, and Dear Hearing World describes the discrimination Antrobus felt in the education system. One line reads: “I was a broken speaker, you were never a broken interpreter.” The poem Echo recalls how he couldn’t hear the last part of his surname, and thought it was ‘Antrob’. “And no one knew what I was missing / until a doctor gave me a handful of Lego / and said to put a brick on the table / every time I heard a sound,” it reads.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I was slow to start walking. No one knew why this was happening until a phone started ringing in my mum’s house and my mum said I was completely oblivious to this phone. She just looked at me and she looked at the phone ringing and she heard it really loudly and I was completely unmoved, I didn’t react.”
His collection also challenges Ted Hughes’ own poem, Deaf School, which describes the children as “Alert and simple”. Antrobus redacts Hughes’ poem with black lines and writes his own verses. “Ted is alert and simple. / Ted lacked a subtle wavering aura of sound / and responses to Sound.”
Antrobus’ work has been critically acclaimed, with the poet Clare Shaw calling his book “universally relevant.” Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson described it as “the most engaging collection of poems we have read in a long time.” Rev Canon Mark Oakley stated that Antrobus was “passionate but speaking from his scars not his wounds – this is a poet you sense very deeply that you can trust.”