Shortlist announced for the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2012

A variety of both new and well-established talents are selected for a potential £16 000 prize in October.

 The shortlists for the prestigious Forward Prizes for Poetry were announced on Tuesday, paving the way for some of the most celebrated and original English-writing poets from around the world, as well as newly-arriving talents yet to find their voice, and their funding. The prizes were founded in 1992 by William Sieghart and the Forward Group and have been running for the past 21 years, rewarding only the best in contemporary poets. Among the nominees for this year's prize for Best First Collection sponsored by Felix Dennis is 81 Austerities by Sam Riviere, winner in 2007 of an Eric Gregory Award and co-editor of the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives, whose poems have featured previously in the New Statesman.

The Best First Collection prize is one of three prizes sponsored by the Forward Arts Foundation, worth £5 000, second to the Best Collection prize for £10 000. The third prize is Best Single Poem in memory of Michael Donaghy, worth £1000. At a possible total of £16 000, it is one of the UK's most valuable prizes for poetry, and leaves little truth in war poet Robert Graves' poignant line “there's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money”. Previous winners of the Best Collection prize include Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy and Ted Hughes, while only one poet, Robin Robertson, has won all three prizes. This year, the nominees for the Best Collection prize include Australian poet Barry Hill, whose collection has been drawn from paintings by Lucian Freud, Oxford Professor of Poetry Geoffrey Hill, who was also shortlisted under the same category last year, and Jorie Graham, described by the Poetry Foundation as “perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation”. Other highlights include, for obvious reasons, Selima Hill's collection titled People Who Like Meatballs.

This year, the judging panel will once again be chaired by Leonie Rushforth, who commented on the variety of submissions, saying she was “especially delighted by the standard of this year's first collections.” She added that, excluding the recurrence of the surname Hill, “there was no obvious route to the shortlists”. The prizes will be awarded on the eve of National Poetry Day, Wednesday 3 October, in Somerset House. 

The winners will be announced at Somerset House on 3rd October. Photo: Getty Images
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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit