Polari Prize: Valentine Ackland: A Transgressive Life by Frances Bingham

What is the Polari Prize?

The Polari Prize is the UK’s only LGBTQ+ book prize. This year, I was delighted to be contacted to be offered books from the shortlist to review. There is a childrens and YA category as well as a first book prize along with the main prize. Founded in 2011, this year is the award’s eleventh year. Founded by author and activist Paul Burston, the awards celebrate LGBTQ+ books, fiction and non-fiction. This year, the awards will take place at the British Library on the 15th November.

Valentine Ackland: A Transgressive Life

The poet Valentine Ackland was one of those people who lived an interesting life. Born in 1906, she married a gay man, who she later divorced, before she got together with the writer Sylvia Townsend Warner. She struggled with alcoholism and infidelity and her poetry was not widely read until after her death, when Ackland’s style of writing became more popular.

Cover of Valentine Ackland: A Transgressive Life by Frances Bingham

Frances Bingham’s biography is well researched, drawing on interviews and documents, some of which were classified because of Ackland’s communist activities. Bingham takes us through Ackland’s life, interlaced with her poetry and writing, and we get a real sense of the struggles she faced.

Academic reading

This is not a light read! This is an in-depth look at the poet’s scandal-filled life. Bingham has gone to remarkable lengths to source and find details of Ackland’s life and it is a book that should definitely be on any academic’s shelf. 

I found reading Ackland’s poetry – and Bingham’s commentary – really insightful. It is remarkable that the poetry is not as well known as it should be and that is a real shame. I hope this book brings Valentine Ackland’s life to the forefront of people’s minds.

interior of elegant spacious multistory library
Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on Pexels.com

Would I read more?

Because of timings and editing work, I simply don’t have time to review, in depth, all of the books on the shortlist. Maybe, in time, I will but by reading a short section, I thought I would be able to ask myself if I would want to read more of this book.

This is certainly not a book that you could dip in and out of! For poetry fans and academics studying the time or feminism, this will be essential reading. Will I? I have to admit, this will probably sit on my shelf for some time. Yes, the pictures are fascinating and the poetry is great, but the detail is beyond what I enjoy.

That said, I have no doubt that I will keep hold of the book for that one novel that needs this research!

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor and proofreader specialising in LGBTQ+ writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

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