The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry 2020

Published 16 December 2020

The Queen has approved the award of Her Majesty’s Gold Medal for Poetry for the year 2020 to David Constantine. 

The Gold Medal for Poetry was established by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of the then Poet Laureate, John Masefield, and is awarded annually for excellence in poetry. Each year’s recipient is from the United Kingdom or a Commonwealth Realm.

The Poetry Medal Committee recommended David Constantine as this year's recipient on the basis of his eleven books of poetry, in particular his Collected Poems, published in 2004, which spans three decades of his work. The committee is chaired by the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, who received The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry for 2018.

David Constantine has made significant contributions both to the European poetic tradition and to contemporary poetry, and the inspiration for his work ranges from the everyday, nature and our relationship with the planet, to the mythical world of Ancient Greece. 

While poetry is at the heart of David Constantine’s prolific career, he is also a scholar, a novelist, and an award-winning short-story writer and translator, whose translations of Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin and Bertolt Brecht have been hailed by critics in the UK and internationally. 

On hearing of the award, David Constantine said:

These past few days I have been thinking of the many people, living and dead, who have accompanied me in the writing of my poems. It has made me all the more grateful for this generous award.

The Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, said: 

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’.

Background

Biography: David Constantine

David Constantine was born in Salford in 1944 and read Modern Languages in Oxford, before lecturing in German at Durham and Oxford. During his career, he has published eleven books of poetry, including Belongings (2020) and Collected Poems (2004). 

For many years he was a commissioning editor for Oxford Poets, and then co-editor of the journal Modern Poetry in Translation, and has judged several literary prizes, including the T.S. Eliot Prize. As well as a poet, David Constantine is a scholar, novelist, short story writer and translator. His body of work includes translations of poets and playwrights, such as Goethe, Friedrich Hölderlin and Bertolt Brecht.

History of The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry

The Gold Medal for Poetry was instituted by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of the then Poet Laureate, John Masefield. The Medal is awarded for excellence in poetry, on the basis either of a body of work over several years, or for an outstanding poetry collection issued during the year of the award. The poet is from the United Kingdom or a Commonwealth realm, and the poems will have been published.

The front of the medal bears the crowned effigy of The Queen. The idea of the reverse, which was designed by the late Edmund Dulac, is ‘Truth is emerging from her well and holding in her right hand the divine flame of inspiration – Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty’. The latter part of this description is a quotation from John Keats's poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn".

Previous recipients of The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry:

1934      Laurence Whistler

1936      W H Auden

1940      Michael Thwaites

1952      Andrew Young

1953      Arthur Waley

1954      Ralph Hodgson

1955      Ruth Pitter

1956      Edmund Blunden

1957      Siegfried Sassoon

1959      Frances Cornford

1960      John Betjeman

1962      Christopher Fry

1963      William Plomer

1964      R S Thomas

1965      Philip Larkin

1967      Charles Causley

1968      Robert Graves

1969      Stevie Smith

1970      Roy Fuller

1971      Stephen Spender

1973      John Heath-Stubbs

1974     Ted Hughes

1977    Norman Nicholson

1981      D J Enright

1986      Norman MacCaig

1988      Derek Walcott

1989      Allen Curnow

1990      Sorley Maclean

1991      Judith Wright

1992      Kathleen Raine

1996      Peter Redgrove

1998      Les Murray

2000      Edwin Morgan

2001      Michael Longley

2002      Peter Porter

2003      U A Fanthorpe

2004      Hugo Williams

2006      Fleur Adcock

2007      James Fenton

2009      Don Paterson

2010      Gillian Clarke

2011      Jo Shapcott

2012      John Agard

2013      Douglas Dunn

2014      Imtiaz Dharker

2015      Liz Lochhead

2016      Gillian Allnutt

2017      Paul Muldoon

2018    Simon Armitage

2019    Lorna Goodison