Criteria: Prize for Best Collection (£10,000) given to the author of the best collection of poetry published in the UK, or Republic of Ireland. Prize for Best First Collection (£5000) given to the author of the best first collection of poetry published in UK, or Republic of Ireland. Prize for Best Single Poem, in memory of Michael Donaghy, £1000, will be given to the author of the best single poem which is not part of a collection or an anthology, published in a newspaper, periodical or magazine.
Today the shortlist for a series of poetry awards, thought to be one of the most coveted in the country, was announced. That is, the Forward Prizes for Poetry, set up by the Forward Arts Foundation.
Why exactly are the Foward prizes invaluable for us? Firstly the awards do both the task of identifying and honouring poetic talent. The prizes are split into three, not only awarding the work of an already established poet’s work, but also for a debut collection, and also for a single poem. So in its three ways the award seeks to exemplify talent from all sides – past, present and future; the impressive list of previous winners being a great indication of the award’s success and continued relevance in the country’s poetry scene.
The prizes will be awarded on the 1st October by Jeanette Winterson – note, that this is the first time the award ceremony is open to the general public, as a prelude to National Poetry Day (which is also organised by the Foundation). Tickets are on sale here. A collection of poetry, from the winners, runners-up and commended, will be produced in a 22nd Forward Poetry anthology to be launched at the same event.
This year the award panel consists of the poets Sheenagh Pugh and Paul Farley (who has recently won his own Cholmondely award), journalist David Mills, and actor and director Samuel West, with Jeanette Winterson as chair. The author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and The Stone Gods had this to say about the shortlist:
This is a powerful year for poetry. We made our choices looking for poems that used a lit-up living language and had a sense of purpose.
Forward Prize for Best Collection Shortlist:
Firstly the ‘bigger’ of the awards, the shortlisted list for best collection, strikingly, are as varied as ever this year. Nevertheless a number of the poets deal with the idea of modernity, and the challenges it poses us. Frontrunner, Michael Symmons Roberts‘s ’21st century psalms’ takes the reader from karaoke clubs to the financial markets. Glyn Maxwell, another heavy contender, examines the love etiquette of internet dating, whilst Parallax, by Sinéad Morrissey, aims to expose what is caught and lost through the art of photography. Jacob Polley instead focuses on traditional literary forms, conjuring from them a modern unsettling comedy and horror. At the other end of the spectrum, Rebecca Goss‘s collection is an emotionally vivid depiction about her daughter, born with an incurable heart condition. (Fuller descriptions can be found by clicking on the covers above.)
Though the above prize is mainly dominated by two publishers, Picador and Carcanet, it is great to see independent publishers being shortlisted in the prize for debut collection, below, further reaffirming our great need to support the small presses. Adam White (via Doire Publishing) incorporates his background as a joiner into his precise poems, whilst Steve Ely (via Smokestack) offers an alternative English patron saint in the guise of a 7th century Northumbrian martyr. The other contenders are by no means less interesting, ranging from disturbing soliloquies by Emily Berry, sparrowhawks and the Bank of England in Marianne Burton‘s collection, to poems about Hannah Lowe‘s father, a Chinese-Jamaican professional gambler. Dan O’Brien creates an intriguing ‘documentary-poem’, from interviews with a traumatised war-reporter.
Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection Shortlist:
The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem Shortlist:
The third and final prize, for best single poem, seems a rarity outside of poetry competitions – it is a pleasant change to see individuality celebrated alongside the heavier collection awards. Below, I have tried to link to a physical copy of the poems, found from other parts of the magical internet:
- ‘The Doll’s House‘ (p24) by Patience Agbabi, via Poetry Review
- ‘Explaining the Plot of Blade Runner to My Mother Who Has Alzheimer’s‘ by C.J. Allen, via Troubadour International Poetry Prize
- ‘The Metric System’ by Nick MacKinnon, via The Warwick Review
- ‘A seedy narrative or moments of lyrical stillness?’ by Rosie Shepperd, via (Smith-Doorstop)
- ‘From the Dialysis Ward‘ (excerpts) by Hugo Williams, via London Review of Books
Powerful year indeed, but it is important to realise that the year has also been troubling for poetry publishers (and arguably for the literary industry in general) with poor sales blighting, in particular, collections of single-authored poetry. Nevertheless, the Forward prizes are about, ironically or otherwise, moving ahead, forwards, whatever synonym you would like, in terms of uncovering and celebrating talent. And this year the Forward Prizes have had 163 collections entered, more than ever before, which no doubt says a lot to disparage the idea that poetry is dead. I am a firm believer in movements, in ‘cultural scenes’, and I think that the Forward Prizes do a great job in pushing the boundaries of British (and Irish) Poetry, by making us question what it means to be a contemporary poet.
Judging the Forward Prizes for Poetry: [Sheenagh Pugh’s] verdict via the Guardian
Forward poetry prizes highlight ‘powerful year for poetry’ via the Guardian
Independents strong on Forward shortlists via thebooksller