2017 Forward Prizes for Poetry shortlists: delights and provocations

The shortlists for Britain’s most coveted poetry awards – the Forward Prizes for Poetry – are announced today by jury chair Andrew Marr.

The prizes, which celebrate the best new poetry published in the British Isles, honour both established poets and emerging writers with three distinct awards: Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem. They are sponsored by Bookmark Content, the content and communications company.

“Reading so many collections of poems over a relatively short period gives one an intense and useful overview of the condition of poetry in English now. Though an enthusiastic reader of poetry all my life, I had had no idea of the variety of the delights and provocations lying all around me. I came away more than ever convinced that if you read journalism alone, or history alone, and you omit contemporary poetry, then you cannot properly understand the world you live in.”
— Andrew Marr, chair of the 2017 Forward Prizes jury

Poets from Ireland and the Caribbean are particularly well-represented this year, alongside striking new voices from America and Africa. Subjects treated include exile, lost parents, barnacle geese, sexual confessions, political satire, a daredevil female aviator, nativity plays, sunken slave ships, psychoanalysis, the library of Alexandria and wars in Vietnam and Uganda. Music and memory feature strongly, both as themes, and, discreetly, in rhythms evoking all forms of song: from lullabies to jazz. Taken together – one-liners, interrogations, psalms and all – these shortlists show contemporary poetry as the magpie of art-forms, borrowing delightedly from science, drama, music, polemic and history.

As Michael Longley, at 77, the oldest of the poets shortlisted, says: “Poetry takes advantage of all the things that words do.” His collection Angel Hill, up for the Best Collection Award, explores the landscapes of Ireland and Scotland through love poems, elegies and reflections on the Troubles. It sits alongside Emily Berry’s Stranger, Baby, an articulation of childhood bereavement; Tara Bergin’s The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx which draws on folksong, fairytale and theatrical monologue; Nuar Alsadir’s Fourth Person Singular, a New York psychoanalyst’s take on identity, and Sinead Morrissey’s On Balance, which references fabled feats of engineering – the Titanic, Marconi’s radio – to explore states of balance and imbalance.

“This is a bold shortlist, full of new names, which take the wider world for their inspiration rather than sticking to territory marked safe for poetry. These are poems that demand and reward close attention from all the senses.”
— Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation




The 2017 Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)

Nuar Alsadir – Fourth Person Singular (Liverpool University Press)

Tara Bergin – The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx (Carcanet)

Emily Berry – Stranger, Baby (Faber & Faber)

Michael Longley – Angel Hill (Cape Poetry)

Sinead Morrissey – On Balance (Carcanet)


The 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)

Maria Apichella – Psalmody (Eyewear Publishing)

Richard Georges – Make Us All Islands (Shearsman Books)

Eric Langley – Raking Light (Carcanet)

Nick Makoha – Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree Press)

Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Cape Poetry)


The 2017 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)

Malika Booker – "Nine Nights" (Poetry Review)

Mary Jean Chan – "//" (Ambit)

Harmony Holiday – "The City Admits no Wrongdoing" (Prac Crit)

Ishion Hutchinson – "Nightfall, Jane Ash Corner, St. Thomas" (The Well Review)

Ian Patterson – "The Plenty of Nothing" (PN Review)


The 2017 judging panel is chaired by journalist and broadcaster Andrew Marr, poets Ian Duhig and Mona Arshi, former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell and writer and academic Sandeep Parmar. The jury read 186 new collections and 212 single poems.

The Forward Prizes, sponsored since their launch in 1992 by the content marketing agency, Bookmark (formerly Forward Worldwide), have been won by some of the best-loved names in poetry: Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Kathleen Jamie. They are awarded by the Forward Arts Foundation, and supported by Arts Council England.

The awards will be presented at a special event at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday 21 September, featuring readings from all the shortlisted books. The 26th annual Forward Book of Poetry, containing the judges’ choice of the year’s poems will be launched on the same day. The event takes place one week before National Poetry Day – Thursday 28 September - and marks the start of a season of nationwide poetry celebrations.

Tickets for the awards ceremony and readings can be found at: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/119655-forward-prizes-poetry-2017-2017

For further information, visit www.forwardartsfoundation.org or join the conversation at @forwardprizes #forwardprizes.