Vahni Capildeo wins 25th Forward Prize for Best Collection

“Language is my home, I say: not one particular language”
— Vahni Capildeo, 'Measures of Expatriation'

Forward Prize for Best Collection (£15,000)
Vahni Capildeo for Measure of Expatriation (Carcanet)
 
Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)
Tiphanie Yanique for Wife (Peepal Tree Press)
 
Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)
Sasha Dugdale for ‘Joy’ (PN Review)

Plus: Forward Arts Foundation’s 25th anniversary marked with the launch of the first ever Forward Prizes Studentship, given to support young poet Shukria Rezaei

Winners of the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2016 were announced tonight, with Vahni Capildeo winning the £15,000 prize for Best Collection for Measure of Expatriation.

Sponsored since their launch in 1992 by the content marketing agency, Forward Worldwide, the three awards – Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem – are Britain’s most coveted poetry prizes, celebrating the best new poetry published in the British Isles. Previous winners include some of the best-loved names in contemporary poetry: Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Kathleen Jamie. 

Measures of Expatriation is Vahni Capildeo’s fourth collection. Born in Trinidad, she has lived in the UK since 1991, winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, where she studied Old Norse before working as an etymologist for the Oxford English Dictionary. She is at ease in a number of languages – including the Spanish, French, English and creoles of her childhood – she writes in her winning book: “Language is my home, I say: not one particular language.”

: “Vahni Capildeo’s Measure of Expatriation is a work that amazes. We found a vertiginous excitement in the way in which the book grasps its subject: the sense of never quite being at home. This is poetry that transforms. When people in the future seek to know what it’s like to live between places, traditions, habits and cultures, they will read this. Here is the language for what expatriation feels like.”
— Malika Booker, Chair of Judges
“The Forward Prizes winners in this, our 25th year, are all writers who push at the limits of language and re-define the possibilities of poetry. I welcome the judges’ decisions to celebrate work that excites them, that delights in finding new ways to express what it is to speak and listen in an age of global English. Across the world, the language of the media and of politics has shown itself to be depleted: unexamined slogans and clichés dominate public discourse. Against this background, the attention that Vahni Capildeo, Tiphanie Yanique and Sasha Dugdale give to the moral and musical weight of every word they use is inspiring. They will be new voices to many readers, they represent change, courage and purpose. We are proud of them.”
— William Seighart, Forward Prizes Founder

The prizes were awarded at a special ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre, with readings from each of the shortlisted collections, introduced by the prizes’ founder William Sieghart and the chair of this year’s judging panel, the writer and multidisciplinary artist Malika Booker. The panel also comprised poets George Szirtes and Liz Berry, with singer/songwriter Tracey Thorn and Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine

Tiphanie Yanique was awarded the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000) awarded for Wife (Peepal Tree Press). Born in the Virgin Islands, Yanique is a novelist, short-story writer and professor in the MFA program at the New School in New York City, where she is the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award. Her collection of poems, Wife, was published in October 2015.

“Tiphanie Yanique’s Wife is above all a generous and witty book, an agile exploration of the many relationships within marriage. She has written a delightful exploration of the tensions and complexity of matrimony, in language that’s deceptively simple.”
— Malika Booker, Chair of Judges

Sasha Dugdale was awarded Best Single Poem for ‘Joy’, first published in PN Review. Dugdale – a poet, playwright, and translator - was born in Sussex, England. She is the editor of Modern Poetry in Translation

“Sasha Dugdale’s ‘Joy’ is an extraordinarily sustained visionary piece of writing. A poetic drama, complete with stage directions, it is addictive writing, compelling and tender. It presents the death of Wiliam Blake, as retold by Catherine, his widow. As she re-tells and re-experiences his death, she re-experiences their life together, her sense of herself and her own creative potential.”
— Malika Booker, Chair of Judges

A special announcement was also made to mark the Forward Arts Foundation’s anniversary celebrations, with the launch of the first Forward Prizes Studentship. It will support a young poet from Afghanistan: Shukria Rezaei, 18, knew no English on arrival in the UK from Afghanistan four years ago but has since won several awards for her poetry. 
 
The Studentship will enable Shukria to stay on an extra year at Oxford Spires Academy, where she will work as a teaching assistant, mentor younger students and encourage the creative and critical reading and writing of poetry throughout the school. Money raised to support her will also enable Forward Arts Foundation to extend the pioneering poetry work with migrants, refugees and other disadvantaged children which has been piloted by Shukria’s teacher, the poet Kate Clanchy, and her colleagues at Oxford Spires Academy. Support for the Very Quiet Girls Poetry project is welcomed via the Just Giving page: www.justgiving.com/forward-artsfoundation. 
 
The ceremony marks the start of a season of nationwide poetry celebrations, culminating with National Poetry Day on Thursday 6 October, with a theme of Messages for 2016.
 
Shortlisted poets are included in the recently released Forward Book of Poetry 2017, which also contains more than 50 poems highly recommended by the judges. Meanwhile, a special title, 100 Prized Poems: Twenty-five years of the Forward Books, has been released to mark the prizes’ momentous anniversary year, featuring a roll-call of both canonical names – Carol Ann Duffy, Don Paterson, Derek Walcott – and fresh voices – Kate Tempest, Kei Miller and Emily Berry.
 
For further information, visit www.forwardartsfoundation.org or join the conversation at @forwardprizes #forwardprizes.