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The Forward Prizes for Poetry 2019 shortlists announced

The Forward Prizes for Poetry are among the UK’s most coveted literary awards, honouring established writers at the peaks of their careers and also brilliant newcomers across three categories; Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem.

On Sunday 20 October we welcome the five nominees for each category to Southbank Centre for the Forward Prizes ceremony, which will also see all 15 shortlisted poets give a reading of their work. 

So here, as announced this morning, are the fifteen nominees for this year's prizes, which we’re delighted to see include two poets who are already joining us at Southbank Centre this summer as part of Out-Spoken’s year long residency.

The Forward Prize for Best Collection 


City of Departures by Helen Tookey (Carcanet)

Born in Leicester, Helen Tookey teaches creative writing at Liverpool John Moores University. City of Departures is her second poetry collection, following on from Missel-Child (Carcanet, 2014) which was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney first collection prize. It is described as an urban patchwork of glimpsed moments and chance affiliations through which Tookey explores how we create meaning in such fleeting encounters and spaces.

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Faber & Faber)

Ilya Kaminsky, who appears here at Southbank Centre in June as part of Out-Spoken, is a hard-of-hearing Russian-Jewish-American poet, critic, translator and professor. His second collection Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), earned him a 2005 Whiting Award and was named 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year in Poetry. Deaf Republic – simultaneously a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea – confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.

The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here by Vidyan Ravinthiran (Bloodaxe Books)

University lecturer and editor at Prac Crit, Vidyan Ravinthiran was previously shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, as well as several other prizes, for Grun-tu-molani (Bloodaxe Books, 2014). The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here, Ravinthiran’s second collection, is a book of sonnets for his wife that also consider the world around them and their love.

Noctuary by Niall Campbell (Bloodaxe Books)

Noctuary is the second collection from Niall Campbell, following on from Moontide (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) for which he won the morgan Poetry Prize and Saltire First Book of the Year award. A diary for the late hours Noctuary offers a time for reflection on what it means to be a young father, and reconnection with the now city-dwelling Campbell’s own childhood in the Outer Hebrides.

Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson (Cape)

Fiona Benson achieved much acclaim for her first poetry collection Bright Travellers (Cape, 2014), which won a Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and was also shortlisted for he TS Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Vertigo & Ghost, Benson’s second collection, delivers poems of violence and motherhood, told through a brutal and compelling evocation of Zeus.


Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection


If All the World and Love Were Young by Stephen Sexton (Penguin Books)

Winner of the 2016 National Poetry Competition, and recipient of an Eric Gregory Prize in 2018, Belfast’s Stephen Sexton has seen his poetry published in Granta and Poetry London. Drawing on traditions of elegy and pastoral If All the World and Love Were Young is a daring, moving and lyrically beautiful exploration of memory, grief and the unreal.

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus (Penned in the Margins)

Raymond Antrobus will be a familiar name to Southbank Centre audiences. Earlier this month he appeared at the first performance of Out-Spoken’s year-long residency with us, and he returns in July to deliver an Out-Spoken poetry masterclass. The Perseverance – an “exceptional exploration of the deaf experience and growing up" – has already received much acclaim, winning the Ted Hughes award and seeing Antrobus become the first poet to win the Rathbones Folio Prize.

Significant Other by Isabel Galleymore (Carcanet)

Recipient of an Eric Gregory Award in 2017, Isabel Galleymore’s poetry has featured in magazines including Poetry and The London Review of BooksSignificant Other sees the poet take a sustained look at the ‘eight million differently constructed hearts’ of species currently said to inhabit Earth, and the intimacies that make up a life. 

Surge by Jay Bernard (Chatto & Windus)

A former winner of SLAMbassadors UK spoken word championship, Jay Bernard won a Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2018 for their performance of Surge: Side A. Tracing a line from the New Cross Fire of 1981 to the Grenfell fire of 2017, Surge speaks with, in and of the voices of the past, brought back by the incantation of dancehall rhythms and music of Jamaican patois, to form a living presence in the absence of justice.

Truth Street by David Cain (Smokestack Books)

David Cain leads sporting and social history projects across the East of England using literature and art to explore history. Published to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster Truth Street combines the eye-witness testimonies of the survivors at the second inquest to create an epic-poem that is part oral history and part documentary theatre.


The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem


Bridge by Jonathan Edwards (The Frogmore Papers)

Jonathan Edwards was born in Newport and grew up in Crosskeys, and is currently an English teacher at a secondary school in Monmouth. His debut poetry collection My Family and Other Superheroes won the Costa Book Award for Poetry in 2014.

Comic Timing by Holly Pester (Granta Magazine)

Holly Pester is a poet and scholar working in experimental forms of lyric and performance texts. She has published works of creative and critical writing in the field of contemporary poetics and on forms of practice-based research methodologies.

Forty Names by Parwana Fayyaz (PN Review)

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Parwana Fayyaz studied CompLit and Creative Writing at Stanford University. She is doing a PhD in Persian Studies at the University of Cambridge. 

Highbury Park by Liz Berry (Wild Court)

The current holder of this Forward Prize, Liz Berry won the award in 2018 for the title poem from her pamphlet Republic of Motherhood. A former primary school teacher, Berry’s debut collection Black Country (2014) won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and the Somerset Maugham Award.

The Window by Mary Jean Chan (The National Poetry Competition by the Poetry Society)

Mary Jean Chan is a poet, editor and academic from Hong Kong. She was previously shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2017 for her piece, ‘//’.

The Forward Prizes for Poetry Ceremony takes place in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 20 October 2019. Hosted by jury chair Shahidha Bari and poet Andrew McMillan the ceremony features readings from all 15 of the shortlisted poets.

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