Meet the shortlisted contenders for this year's Forward poetry prizes

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The 2021 Forward prize shortlists for best collection, best first collection and best single poem are announced today. The collections in the running for the £10,000 best collection award touch on the multiple inheritances of nation, history and the body (Kayo Chingonyi: A Blood Condition); contemporary issues of feminism, ecology, disease, migration and war (Tishani Doshi: A God at the Door); men and different kinds of women’s relationships with men (Selima Hill: Men Who Feed Pigeons); Shakespeare’s sonnets recast through a house party where it is never quite clear what is an act and what is real (Luke Kennard: Notes on the Sonnets); and how the imagination responds to stress to preserve and comfort itself (Stephen Sexton: Cheryl’s Destinies).

The shortlist for the £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection is: Caleb Femi: Poor; Alice Hiller: Bird of Winter; Cynthia Miller: Honorifics; Holly Pester: Comic Timing; Ralf Webb: Rotten Days in Late Summer.

Contenders for the best £1,000 single poem prize are: Fiona Benson ‘Androgeus’ (Times Literary Supplement); Natalie Linh Bolderston ‘Middle Name with Diacritics’ (National Poetry Competition); John McCullough ‘Flower of Sulphur’ (Poetry London); Denise Riley ‘1948’ (Poetry Ireland Review); and Nicole Sealey ‘Pages 22-29, An excerpt from The Ferguson Report: An Erasure’ (Poetry London).

James Naughtie, chair of the 2021 Forward prizes jury, said: “We know that the year – and more – of the pandemic was also the year of reading. And that means poetry as well as prose. It was a time when everyone was reminded how much we need to be exposed to the power of the imagination.

“And the shortlists for the Forward prizes 2021 are a reminder that the poetic imagination isn’t wholly introspective, although it cuts deep. It’s bold, limitless in ambition and it touches every part of our lives – our own hopes and fears, our communities, and the wider world that so often seems bewildering and overpowering. These poets find pathways into the deepest feelings and discover vantage points that take a reader (or a listener) to another place. In their hands we look at the world differently. This is a moment for poetry; and all these poets deliver. Read them, and take off.”

Also on the judges panel are poets Leontia Flynn, Pascale Petit and Shivanee Ramlochan, plus poetry critic Tristram Fane Saunders. This year 2021 marks the Forward prizes’ 30th year. More details



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