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, joined by such magazine contributors as Emma Hogan of the Economist and Megan Walsh of the Times Saturday Review. All nominees of the Best Single Poem prize have also featured in various newspapers and magazines; judges chose from 150 poems all published between 1st May 2011 and 30th April 2012. Rushforth 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”, which gives to a wide variety of quality poetry being published with the announcement of the winners.
The prizes will be awarded on the eve of National Poetry Day, Wednesday 3rd October, in Somerset House. Along with the ceremony, this day will hold the publication of the Forward Book of Poetry 2013, an anthology of highly commended submissions selected by the judges. The Chairman of the Forward Arts Foundation, William Sieghart, has also showed his enthusiasm for the nominees chosen and, by his personal judgement of “the diversity and originality of the judges’ selection”, we can be assured that the winners in October will be worthy of their commemoration.