The Forward Prizes for Poetry, The Contact Theatre, Manchester 28th November 2022
By Seamus Kelly
The Forward Arts Foundation is a charity that seeks to increase the audience for poetry, to increase the public knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of poetry in the UK and Ireland. The foundation promotes the annual National Poetry Day on the first Thursday of October, the Forward Prizes for Poetry and the Forward Book of Poetry, an annual anthology of the year’s best poems.
This year for the first time the Forward Prizes for Poetry, celebrating their 30th year were presented outside London, at the Contact Theatre in Manchester, which is celebrating its own 50th anniversary. The Prizes have become one of the most prestigious literature prizes in the UK and Forward announced at the event, that next year there will be an additional prize for the Best Single Poem Performed for the 2023 event.
The audience at the sold-out show enjoyed a wide range of excellent poetry from the five shortlisted poets in each of three categories. We were also treated to an excellent short film about the vibrant poetry scene in Manchester, the city that has become a major centre for poetry in recent years and can rival any city worldwide for the quality and quantity of new poetry being created. For those unable to attend the event it was also live streamed to an audience around the world.
After introductions from Keisha Thompson (CEO of Contact) and William Seighart (founder of the Forward Prizes) the presentation itself began.
The prize for Best Single Poem was awarded to Nick Laird (Professor of Poetry at Queens University in Belfast) for his powerful and moving poem “Up Late,” a kind of elegy for his father who he lost to Covid-19 in March 2021. The poem was long and multi-sectional but engaged the audience completely.
The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection was awarded to Stephanie Sy-Quia, for her book Amnion published by Granta Poetry.
Amnion is a single book length poem and Sy-Quia read a section that spoke of her time at a boarding school in Canterbury. The poem explores questions around immigration and multiple origins. I was particularly moved by the lines; “The blonde others aspired to be described with mean, hard-nosed little words: thin, pretty, nice. I wanted big-femur words like wise and kind.”
The Forward Prize for Best Collection went to Kim Moore for her collection titled “All the Men I Never Married” published by Seren Books. Moore read poem number 7 from her book and then when presented with the Prize also read poem number 12. Her book and the poems that make it up were prompted by the research for her PHD thesis on “Poetry and Everyday Sexism” which reinforced her belief that poetry can be transformative. She wanted to write poems that could shift people’s thinking about sexism and gender-based microaggressions but had not expected it to shift he own as well. This might sound very PC, or it may look like it would appeal only to women – both are far from the truth and the whole audience thoroughly enjoyed her poems as well as, perhaps, being challenged by them.
If/when the prizes return to Manchester in 2023, I’d highly recommend the event to anyone, writer, reader of listener with an interest in poetry. The shortlisted poems, including the winners can be found on www.forwardartsfoundation.org or in the Forward Book of Poetry 2023 available from major booksellers.
The Forward Arts Foundation are supported by the BBC, Royal Mail, leading publishers, and book sellers and by Arts Council England.