The Forward Prizes for Poetry

Apart from the odd comment/share on social media, I’ve been a bit of a poetry recluse, lately: Soundswrite’s had a summer break; my writing’s been in the doldrums; this blog suffered an hiatus(???!); poetry TBRs languished as I sought the company of novels.

Tuesday night’s Forward Poetry Prizes event had been on my radar for some time, though, thanks to Jen Campbell’s Youtube book channel.  (Jen was one of four poets on this year’s judging panel).  I booked way back in June when I was intent upon ploughing through the re-named Life’s for Living List and before the heatwave fried my brain.  The date crept up on me, rather.  But I always enjoy my infrequent London jaunts, don’t I? And how could I pass up on the chance of such a poetry jolly?

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I was looking forward to some poet-spotting and saying hi to one or two familiar faces, maybe. Instead, I promptly went into introvert mode: a seat in the cafe with my nose in a book (and a novel, at that!) beforehand, an ice cream taken back to my seat during the interval and a prompt departure afterwards for the Tube at Waterloo (walking past the book stall without a sideways glance).  What’s wrong with me?!

Anyway, I’m glad I went.  I enjoyed my first Forward Prizes evening very much.  It was a re-connection with the buzz that exists around poetry in a building full of poets and poetry lovers.

All fifteen shortlistees were there except for Jorie Graham (who sent a letter, and a recorded message and poem reading). I really hope I get the opportunity to hear her read in person, some day.

There was no second-guessing the winner of the single poem, but I thought Fiona Benson’s ‘Ruins’ was a close contender; beautifully read, too.  I’d like to read more of her work (I gather there’s a forthcoming collection).  I’m delighted for Liz Berry, though.  Incidentally, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of one Jen Campbell’s Dissect a Poem videos.  You can read it here.

I really enjoyed the readings by shortlistees for Best First Collection; such a range of voices and subjects. Kaveh Akbar was the audience’s darling but the award went to Phoebe Power for her Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet).  Heritage was a theme common to several of the shortlisted works.  I really enjoyed Shivanee Ramlochan’s readings from Everyone knows I’m a Haunting and pleased to see a Peepal Tree Press poet alongside those published by the Big Guns.

After the interval there followed strong readings from the Best Collection shortlistees.  I particularly warmed to JO Morgan’s voices from Assurances (Cape) and hope to hear him read again, somewhere.  Danez Smith stole the show, though, and the prize announcement was hugely popular with the audience.  

The list of prizewinners and shortlistees is available on the Forward Arts Foundation website and you can scroll through photos and Prize-related links over on their Twitter account.  Then there’s Robin Houghton’s blog post on her version of events, plus an account of yesterday’s Poetry Book Fair which I was pleased to read as two trips to London inside a week just wasn’t do-able.

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