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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Ledbury Poetry Festival

What a full-on week it’s been: a glorious mix of poetry, music and family. Consequently it’s Sunday evening already and I’ve only just sat down in front of my PC to write this week’s blog post.

The poetry highlight of my week was my first visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival. This has been on my wish list (recently renamed my Life’s For Living list) for some time, so I’m pleased that, at last, I’m able to put some of my poetry plans into action.

As Ledbury is a small market town, it was quick and easy to move between venues without getting lost (I found I didn’t really use the street guide I’d picked up at the festival office). The festival is extremely well-organised and executed with a warm and friendly vibe. Add to this an uneventful return road trip on well-behaved motorways, a spot of retail therapy along The Homend and an overnight stay in a thatched country cottage B & B: just the ticket!

Ledbury’s Market Theatre was the venue for Martin Figura’s Doctor Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine, on Thursday night.

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I found Figura’s stage performance witty and moving by turns; the running slide show backdrop was equally engaging. I thoroughly recommend seeing this, if you get the chance.

My first booked event on Friday was Kim Moore’s writing workshop, Veiling the Narrative. Using exemplar poems followed by short writing exercises, we explored different techniques for telling/not telling the story: what to tell and what to hold back. I came away with a few starters.

I then hot-footed it over to Burgage Hall

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for the Eric Gregory award-winners’ readings. Some initial technical issues with Skype connections for two poets meant that the last few readings were rather rushed. Nevertheless, the hour was an interesting introduction to a range of styles and subjects from the young and promising.

Jill Abram’s Stablemates event was perhaps my favourite of the day. I really liked the format: three poets with a publisher in common; three twenty-minute ‘salons’ comprising a compere-led Q & A followed by a short reading. Kim Moore, Jonathan Edwards and Paul Henry were the Seren-published stablemates. Their responses to Jill Abram’s well-chosen questions gave an insight into their respective collections prior to their readings.

I had time between events for refreshments and to seek refuge from the heat (I wasn’t the only one in Burgage Hall fanning myself with a festival programme in an effort to cool down and combat drowsiness).

Sinead Morrissey’s reading, and conversation with Ursula Owen, was the last event on my itinerary. I had to admire Morrissey’s poise and composure as, by this stage, I was at melting point. Some memorable remarks by the poet included her conviction that all poetry is political as the act of writing is revolutionary; that we are custodians of language. I was intrigued by her envy of poets who ‘have their own language’ (she maintains she does not). Morrissey’s reading of poems from her latest collection, On Balance, elicited audible poetry murmurs from her audience.

I didn’t linger afterwards as, by then, it was 7pm and time to head for my car (and the joy of its air con.) for the drive home.

Lovely Ledbury. A much-needed break. A recharge for poetry batteries. I hope to return.