Nuclear stand-off, new-born lambs, defiant sex and Hollywood blockbusters, addiction, rage and pity - Britain’s most coveted poetry awards, the Forward Prizes for Poetry, have today announced shortlists dominated by “urgent, engaged and inspirational” voices tackling complex subjects with high-stakes brio.
2018 jury, the writer, critic and broadcaster Bidisha, said: “In reading for this year's Forward Prizes, the other judges and I discovered an art form that is in roaring health. We read countless collections full of wonder and possibility, light but not trivial, serious but not depressing, lushly emotional but not sentimental, frequently witty and capable of great craft and zingy modernity.
“Our shortlists represent the stunning variety and breadth of poetry today, with contemporary international voices that are urgent, engaged and inspirational.”
The Forward Prizes for Poetry celebrate the best new poetry published in the British Isles. They 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.
The 2018 Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)
Vahni Capildeo – Venus as a Bear (Carcanet)
Toby Martinez de las Rivas – Black Sun (Faber)
J.O. Morgan – Assurances (Cape)
Danez Smith – Don’t Call Us Dead (Chatto)
Tracy K. Smith – Wade in the Water (Penguin)
The 2018 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)
Kaveh Akbar – Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Penguin)
Phoebe Power – Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet)
Abigail Parry – Jinx (Bloodaxe)
Shivanee Ramlochan – Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting (Peepal Tree)
Richard Scott – Soho (Faber)
The 2018 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)
Fiona Benson – Ruins (Wild Court)
Liz Berry – The Republic of Motherhood (Granta)
Sumita Chakraborty – And death demands a labor (PN Review)
Jorie Graham – Tree (LRB)
Will Harris – SAY (The Poetry Review)
The books on the Best Collection shortlist combine watchfulness and energy, often articulating points of view and relationships long silenced or left unspoken. J.O. Morgan throws the world’s state of permanent nuclear alert into startling relief in Assurances, a single poem punctuated by voices of Cold War players, including spies, pilots and even the orbiting Bomb itself.
Tracy K. Smith, the US poet laureate, writes in Wade in the Water of what it means to be a citizen, a mother and an artist in a culture arbitrated by wealth, men and violence.
Her fellow American, Danez Smith - a former world poetry slam finalist - uses a radical orator’s eloquence to tug at the labels linked unthinkingly to gender and race in Don’t Call Us Dead.
Vahni Capildeo - winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2016 - gives voice in Venus as a Bear to the inanimate and non-human, from sheep and seeds to painted birds and Roman relics.
And in Black Sun, Toby Martinez de las Rivas displays a fascination with history and theology, with the physical body and the body of the State, that has earned him comparisons to William Blake.
Bidisha said: “The poets shortlisted explore everything from sexuality and passion to race and identity, nuclear war to motherhood, the ruins of the past and the challenges that lie in the future. Their styles range from controlled elegance to passionate declaration, crisp formalism and conceptual rigour to song-like flow and wry diary-style notes, but are all fiery and joyful in their audacity.”
Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation which runs the Forward Prizes for Poetry, said: “The poetry shortlisted this year revives the ancient art of paying full and undivided attention. In a time of ceaseless background noise, these poets don’t shy from the contemporary: they clear a space in which all that is really important can be heard.”
The 2018 judging panel is chaired by writer, critic and broadcaster Bidisha, poets Mimi Khalvati, Niall Campbell and Chris McCabe, director of the National Poetry Library, plus Jen Campbell, poet, author and vlogger. The jury read 207 new collections and 188 single poems.
The Forward Prizes, founded by William Sieghart and 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 Jackie Kay. 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 Southbank Centre on Tuesday 18 September, featuring readings from all the shortlisted books. The 27th annual Forward Book of Poetry, containing the judges’ choice of the year’s poems, will be celebrated on the same day. The event takes place in the week before National Poetry Day – Thursday 27 September - and marks the start of a season of nationwide poetry celebrations.
A recent Poetry Summit at The London Book Fair, convened by the Forward Arts Foundation and Inpress Books, found that the poetry market is booming as audiences for poetry, as well as poets themselves, are diversifying. 2017 marked the best sales on record for poetry books in both volume and value. There is a new appetite for the work of living poets, and a burgeoning live events scene.
Tickets for the awards ceremony and readings can be found at: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/
For further information, visit www.forwardartsfoundation.org or join the conversation at @forwardprizes #forwardprizes.