Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry for 2020
Like the work of the European poets who have nourished him, David Constantine’s poetry is informed by a profoundly humane vision of the world. The title of his eleventh collection, Belongings, signals that these are poems concerned both with our possessions and with what possesses us. Among much else in the word belongings, the poems draw on a sense of our ‘co-ordinates’ – something like the eastings and northings that give a map-reference – how you might triangulate a life.
The poems ask: Where do you belong? And have in mind also the hostile: You don’t belong here. Go back where you belong. Many, possibly all, the poems in the collection touch more or less closely on such matters. Perhaps all poetry does, showing a life in its good or bad defining circumstances. In the poem ‘Red’, the defining geography is literal, drawn from an old geological map of Manchester in which Constantine finds ‘the locus itself, a railway cutting / Behind the hospital I was born in’, from which the paths of a life led outward. In other poems the particular becomes universal, a territory holding all our belongings, our memories of the people and the places we hold in our hearts. Behind these explorations another kind of belonging is challenged: our relationship with the planet to which we belong, but which does not belong to us.
‘Above all, David Constantine is a “humane” poet – a word often used in connection with his work, as if in noticing and detailing the ways of the world he is doing so on behalf of all that is best in us. For over forty years he has shaped a body of work that stands in comparison with that of any of his contemporaries, not just at home but internationally, navigating and negotiating that space between everyday events and their metaphysical or spiritual “otherness”.’ - Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry Committee
'There is a spirit that suffuses this collection, and it is perhaps best seen in ‘I will hold you in the light’, which is about relationships with loved ones, about the things that really matter... A map of David Constantine’s poetry reveals many different features, including his work as a translator, but also certain characteristics; a clarity of expression, a reverence for nature, and an overarching humanity.' - Greg Freeman, Write Out Loud [on Belongings]
'Constantine is a distinguished novelist and short story writer as well as a poet. These poems show his compassionate interest in other people’s lives and his skill in presenting them, whether by narrative description or dramatic monologue. People’s minds and feelings are embedded in their bodies and biology, their individual life stories and relationships, the wider structures of society and processes of history, geography, the environment. Perhaps a novelist is particularly alert to this fact. Certainly Constantine is, and these different elements of life are densely interwoven through all the poems, with more and more connections emerging as one rereads.' - Edmund Prestwich, The North [on Belongings]
‘Constantine’s peculiar vision is an uneasy blend of the exquisite and the everyday…the beatific, the ordinary, the rebarbative even, are almost indistinguishable… Overwhelmingly the poems are intelligent and well-turned, setting out the tensions between innocence and experience with fine control.’ – Elizabeth Lowry, Times Literary Supplement