Women Poets’ Prize announces first ever shortlist

Judges Sarah Howe, Fiona Sampson and Moniza Alvi choose nine “incredibly varied” poets to be in the running for the award in celebration of poetry and the empowerment of women

Nine “subtle, transformative, distinctive and powerful” poetic voices have made it onto the shortlist for the inaugural Women Poets’ Prize.

Launched by the Rebecca Swift Foundation in June, the biennial prize works in collaboration with a network of partners, including Faber and Faber, Bath Spa University, The Literary Consultancy, RADA, City Lit, Verve Festival, and The Poetry School, to offer female-identifying poets a programme of support and creative professional development opportunities.

The three winners, to be announced next month, will be matched with a poetry mentor in addition to a pastoral coach, facilitating a body of support that will nurture craft and wellbeing in equal measure, and will also be rewarded with a monetary award of £1,000.

This year’s judges were the award-winning Pakistani-British poet and poetry tutor Moniza Alvi; the prize-winning poet and writer Fiona Sampson; and Sarah Howe, who won both the T.S. Eliot Prize and The Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award with her 2015 debut, Loop of Jade.

The judges said: “The standard of the entries was exceptionally high. These are sophisticated poets who have found their voices: and those voices are incredibly varied, challenging yet also often downright beautiful. Across this diverse group of poets, each one is subtle, transformative, distinctive and powerful. We look forward eagerly to reading more of their work.”

The 2018 shortlist for the Women Poets’ Prize

  • Jenna Clake’s debut poetry collection, Fortune Cookie, was awarded the Melita Hume Prize and shortlisted for a Somerset Maugham Award. A pamphlet of her prose poems, CLAKE / Interview for, is forthcoming from Verve Poetry Press. In 2018, she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. @jennaclake

  • Claire Collison uses word and image in equal measure. Shortlisted for Bridport, Flambard, Poetry Business, Resurgence and Hippocrates prizes, she was commissioned to write for Refugee Tales at the Aldeburgh Festival. Artist in Residence at the Women’s Art Library, Claire performs her single-breasted life modelling monologue, Truth Is Beauty. @clairecollison1

  • Alice Hiller was awarded a 2017-18 Jerwood Arvon Mentorship and Commended in the 2018 Hippocrates Prize. An activist poet, she is working towards her first collection, aperture, about sexual abuse in childhood, while blogging contextual, documentary essays. She reviews for Poetry Review, and published The T-Shirt Book with Ebury Press. @alice_hiller

  • Holly Hopkins’ debut pamphlet, Soon Every House Will Have One, won the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. She’s received an Eric Gregory Award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. Holly manages the Forward Prizes for Poetry, has edited The Rialto and organises live poetry events. @HRHopkins

  • Bryony Littlefair works for a community centre in Kilburn and for literature charity The Reader. Her poetry has appeared in various magazines and her pamphlet Giraffe was published by Seren Books in 2017. @B_Littlefair

  • Anita Pati lives in London but was born and brought up in a northern seaside town. She is working towards her first poetry pamphlet. @patiani

  • Nina Mingya Powles is a writer from New Zealand living in London. She is the author of Luminescent (2017) and Girls of the Drift (2014), and her poetry pamphlet Field Notes on a Downpour is forthcoming from If A Leaf Falls Press. She is poetry editor at The Shanghai Literary Review and won the 2018 Jane Martin Poetry Prize. @ninamingya

  • Em Strang is a prison tutor and facilitator of workshops in Embodied Poetry. Her writing preoccupations are with ‘nature’, spirituality and the relationship between the human and nonhuman. Em’s first full collection, Bird-Woman (Shearsman, 2016), was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Best First Collection Prize and won the 2017 Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Award.

  • Jemilea Wisdom-Baako is a British-Jamaican poet, writer, facilitator and founder of Writerz and Scribez CIC. A Callaloo Fellow and London Writer’s Awards recipient her work has been widely commissioned and appears in Pittsburgh Poetry Review and The Good Journal. @PoeticJemz

About the judges

Moniza Alvi was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and came to England when she was a few months old. She grew up in Hertfordshire and studied at the universities of York and London. Peacock Luggage, a book of poems by Moniza Alvi and Peter Daniels, was published as a result of the two poets jointly winning the Poetry Business Prize in 1991. Since then, Moniza Alvi has written eight poetry collections. Europa (2008), a Poetry Book Society Choice, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. At the Time of Partition (2013) was a Poetry Book Society Choice, shortlisted for the 2013 TS Eliot Prize, and won the East Anglian Writers Prize for poetry. Moniza’s latest collection is Blackbird, Bye Bye. She now tutors for the Poetry School and lives in Norfolk. In 2002 she received a Cholmondeley Award for her poetry.

Fiona Sampson is a prize-winning poet and writer. She has been published in more than thirty languages and received an MBE for services to literature. A Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and the recipient of a number of national and international honours for her poetry, she has worked as a violinist, in health care and as an editor.

Sarah Howe is a British poet, academic and editor. Her first book, Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus, 2015), won the T.S. Eliot Prize and The Sunday Times / PFD Young Writer of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Born in Hong Kong to an English father and Chinese mother, she moved to England as a child. Her pamphlet, A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia (Tall-lighthouse, 2009), won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. She has performed her work at festivals internationally and on BBC Radio 3 and 4. She is the founding editor of Prac Crit, an online journal of poetry and criticism. She was a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, before taking up a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at University College London. Previous honours include a Hawthornden Fellowship and the Harper-Wood Studentship for English Poetry, as well as fellowships from Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. She is a Lecturer in Poetry at King’s College London.

About the Women Poets’ Prize

As a biennial award, the Women Poets’ Prize will seek to honour Rebecca’s two key passions: poetry and the empowerment of women. The Prize will offer three female-identifying poets a programme of support and creative professional development opportunities in collaboration with seven partner organisations: Faber and Faber, Bath Spa University, The Literary Consultancy, RADA, City Lit, Verve Festival, and The Poetry School.

Each winner of the Women Poets’ Prize will be carefully matched with a poetry mentor in addition to a pastoral coach, facilitating a body of support that will nurture craft and wellbeing in equal measure. The three winners will also each receive a monetary award of £1,000. The Rebecca Swift Foundation is keen for poets at all career stages to apply, with a particular eye for applications from individuals who do not usually consider applying for prizes. The Foundation and the Women Poets’ Prize were announced formally at the Second Home Poetry Festival in June 2018.

About the Rebecca Swift Foundation

The Rebecca Swift Foundation is a UK registered charity set up in memory of Rebecca Swift – a much-loved editor, novelist, diarist, poet, and founder and director of The Literary Consultancy from its foundation in 1996 until her early death in April 2017. The Foundation is overseen by a Board of Trustees who held Rebecca dear, with Victoria Adukwei Bulley as Project Manager.

TLC was the UK’s first editorial consultancy for writers, and was co-founded by Rebecca and her colleague Hannah Griffiths after they met working together at Virago Press. At the time of its inception, TLC’s aim was to bridge the gap between writers, agents and publishers. Jenny Downham, Tina Seskis, Penny Pepper, Neamat Imam, Prue Leith, and Kerry Young are among the many authors it has supported to publication over the years. Now an Arts Council England NPO, TLC also runs a nationwide bursary scheme for low-income and marginalised writers alongside its commercial editorial, mentoring, and events services.

Rebecca was a prolific writer, and a great lover of poetry. Her biography of Emily Dickinson, Dickinson: Poetic Lives, was published in 2011 with Hesperus Press, and she wrote poetry throughout her life. She was also a Trustee of the Maya Centre, a charity supporting vulnerable women in Islington through psychodynamic counselling, and a vocal supporter of their mental health therapy programmes which focus on enabling women to heal through learning to tell their stories.

In line with these passions – poetry, mental health, and women’s rights – the Rebecca Swift Foundation Women Poets’ Prize will provide a programme of longterm support and creative professional development opportunities to three female-identifying poets per year, selected through a judged application process. Each poet will be matched with a poetry mentor and a separate pastoral coach, and will have access to a number of inspirational ‘experience’ modules including Performance, Festivals, Bookbinding, Publishing History, Digital and Transmedia Skills, and a personalised Exploration module.

Rebecca was always very clear that her wish for TLC, as for the Foundation, was to shift the emphasis away from ‘outcomes’ that focussed on publication, and instead to maximise vital creative space for poets within a supported environment, giving them the opportunity to explore their writing and develop their poetic voice and their central sense of self, as well as improving skills through the learning modules, combining the holistic with the practical and allowing the poetry, and the poets, to flourish.