Spoken word, out loud! Forward prizes announce first performance poetry shortlist

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The Forward prizes has announced the shortlist for its new category of best single performance poem. The contenders are Zena Edwards (‘Human. This Embodied Knowledge’); Michael Pedersen, pictured (‘The Cat Prince’); Bohdan Piasecki (‘Almost Certainly’); Roger Robinson (‘The City Kids See the Sea’); and Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe (‘And our eyes are on Europe’). When the category was announced last year, Monica Parle, co-executive director of the Forward Arts Foundation, said the new prize would seek “to rebalance historical inequities in our emphasis on written over performed poetry … We also hope it will increase the ways poets and audiences access and engage with the prizes.” 

TS Eliot prize winner Joelle Taylor, chair for the Best Single Poem Written and Performed categories, said: “The Forward prize is the first major British literary award to include performed poetry within its categories, and I am honoured to have chaired the judging panel for both that and best single poem published in a journal. Between the two categories we have curated shortlists that exemplify all that is distinct, innovative, and alive in British poetry and poetic thought.” On the judging panel with her are Khadijah Ibrahiim, Caroline Bird, Chris Redmond and Sue Roberts.

The move was remarkably hailed by the Guardian newspaper in an editorial headed: 'Spoken word poets: powerful voices that are needed today'. The paper said: "News that one of the UK’s leading poetry prizes is introducing a category for spoken word artists is as welcome as it is overdue. The move by the Forward prizes signals that the poetry establishment is finally finding a way to honour a sector that it has traditionally regarded as a cuckoo in its nest, when in fact it has long been a fully fledged skylark. This prejudice has done poetry itself no favours, by excluding not only some of the most powerful voices of the last half century, but also those most likely to draw big new audiences into its thrall."

The Forward shortlist for best collection is: Jason Allen-Paisant Self Portrait as Othello (Carcanet); Mary Jean Chan Bright Fear (Faber & Faber); Jane Clarke A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe); Kit Fan The Ink Cloud Reader (Carcanet); and Elisabeth Sennitt Clough My Name is Abilene (Salt).

The Forward contenders for best first collection are: Susannah Dickey ISDAL (Pan Macmillan); Rowan Evans A Method, A Path (Bloomsbury); Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa Cane, Corn & Gully (Out-Spoken Press); Momtaza Mehri Bad Diaspora Poems (Jonathan Cape); and Kandace Siobhan Walker Cowboy (Cheerio Publishing).

The shortlist for best single written poem is: Kathryn Bevis ‘My body tells me that she’s filing for divorce’ (Second Light Poetry Competition); Malika Booker ‘Libation’ (Poetry Review); Kizziah Burton ‘Oh do you know the Flower Man’ (Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition); Breda Spaight ‘The Curse’ (Southword); and Eric Yip ‘Fricatives’ (National Poetry Competition).



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