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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Instead of a poetry social life

This week, I’m suffering from a bout of cabin fever (life stuff, eh).  Just about everyone in the poetry world is sharing the love at Verve Poetry Festival (or so it seems, as social media serves to fuel my envy).  I’ve also missed two Midlands poetry open mic nights and Saturday’s South Leics stanza meeting.

I’ve not been totally bereft of a poetry social life, though.  Thanks to the kindness of a fellow Soundswriter who gave me a lift, I attended our poetry reading/discussion/workshopping meeting on Tuesday.  And there have been ‘injections’ of poetry to sustain:

A Valentine’s Day gift from my husband (okay, I did drop a very specific hint about this one):

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I was pleased to find this sassy little number includes Jo Bell’s ‘The Shipwright’s Love Song,’ which I think I first experienced as a film poem, a few years ago.  (It might have been this one).

The latest e-newsletter from the Academy of American Poets comprised a themed selection of love poems; among them, Wislawa Szymborska’s ‘Love at First Sight.’  I love the narrative that belies the title of this poem – the premise that Chance has been toying with them/now for years. I’ve copied the last four lines into my notebook, to savour:

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

I always get a poetry kick out of coming across another unfamiliar/new poem by one of my favourite poets.  Liz Berry’s poem, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of writer and book vlogger Jen Campbell’s latest (Dissect a Poem) video.  Berry’s poem is a journey through the unmapped territory of new motherhood; there’s a pervading sense of detachment and isolation right up to the last line’s turning point of this rite of passage.

Current reading also includes issue 58 of The North (I know, I’m really behind with my reading of poetry mags).  I nearly punched the air on reading Anthony Wilson’s ‘I Come to Your Shit’  Hell, yes! (If nowt else, I hope I’ll be remembered as a supporter).

Whatever you’re reading, I hope it nourishes the parts etc 🙂 x

 

Liz Berry at Rugby library

It’s been three years since the publication of Liz Berry’s Black Country collection.  I remember devouring it in one sitting (that was greedy of me; it’s a rich dish, the better for savouring).  It became my 2014 favourite, and remains high on my list of favourite poetry collections.

An infrequent Twitter visitor, I was pleased to spot a retweet for Saturday’s Warwickshire Poetry Voices event (thank you, @NineArchesPress) and promptly bagged a free e-ticket.  After a short drive across the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border, my sat nav obligingly located nearby parking and I had time to enjoy a coffee beforehand.

The programme began with readings of favourite published poems and own work by members of Rugby poetry group (fresh from a workshop with Liz Berry, the lucky creatures).  I particularly enjoyed hearing Maya Angelou’s empowering Phenomenal Woman and laughed aloud at Sophie Hannah’s If People Disapprove of You, both new to me, both striking a chord.

Liz Berry’s was a short reading in the time allotted, but a joy nevertheless.  She gave her audience full permission to stretch [your] legs and have a good wriggle (proving that you can’t take the Primary teacher out of the poet 🙂 ) before opening with ‘Bobowler’,  (a large moth) a poem commissioned by BBC local radio for National Poetry Day, celebrating the Black Country’s favourite dialect word.  Berry followed with ‘Homing’, her love poem to the Black Country accent with its consonants/ you could lick the coal from.  ‘Birmingham Roller celebrates this dull grey city bird, the tumbling pigeon, in a dialect poem rich with gems such as tranklement and jimmucking.  ‘Stone’ is a love poem for a rarer gem, the husband who gives a milk pan (and, more recently, we’re told, a glue gun) as a Christmas gift.  Before concluding her reading with’Christmas Eve,’ Berry explained that, in writing the poem, she wanted to do for the Black Country what Dylan Thomas achieved in Under Milk Wood.  And doesn’t she just!

Throughout, I barely glanced at my copy of Black Country.  It was clear from the outset that these are love poems to the local language this Dudley-born poet grew up hearing, borne out in Liz Berry’s responses to questions from the audience afterwards.

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