'At the core of every poet is an immense arrogance and ego': the Forward contenders, in their own words

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It’s hard to feel like a poet “when you are teaching 30 children how to play a trumpet”, admits part-time music teacher and freelance writer Kim Moore, shortlisted for the Forward prize best single poem.

Paul Muldoon’s “all-time” poetic hero is John Donne:  “He’s out on his own. Everybody else is playing catch-up.” Muldoon is a contender for the £10,000 best collection prize.

Mona Arshi – shortlisted for best first collection - likes the idea of “ ‘attentive daydreaming’. I don’t think I am the kind of poet that approaches an idea or subject matter directly … Instead a poem for me is like a creature that you stalk. You know that there is something at the corner of your eye that needs your attention but you have to be careful not to frighten it away with sudden jerky movements, you whisper your way around it. At some point you will have captured the contours of something, and it’s a complete mystery what you’ll find, initially it’s a bit like a baggy cloud, and then the real work begins. This is the part of the joy of writing a poem - discovering it.”

You can find these quotes – and many more – in Q&A interviews with the Forward prize contenders on the Forward Arts Foundation’s website, along with the full list of prize contenders in the three sections - best collection, best first collection, and best single poem.

Andrew McMillan, talking about his collection physical, shortlisted for best first collection, explains: “When I broke up with my first long-term boyfriend, and when Barnsley was feeling the worst of the 2008 recession, something in me switched - I went on a course tutored by Michael Symmons Roberts and Mimi Khalvati about the ‘long poem’; something in what was happening to me on a personal level, and to Barnsley on an economic and social level, felt like it needed the attention of something longer - so the central poem of this collection was born. I realised in the writing of that, and in the poems which came after it, that I could write confessional, personal poetry that could resonate with other people, that might have an impact on them, and that’s the strand I’ve been continuing to develop.”

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, shortlisted for best collection, warns: “At the core of every poet is an immense arrogance and ego: this is a beast you have to feed even if your character is quite retiring and polite, because the poems won’t come if you starve him.”

And Maura Dooley, another best single poem contender, has this advice to offer: “Pay no attention to fashion. Read, read, read: read across centuries, traditions and continents. Don’t get caught up in any of the silly arguments that spring up: read poetry, write poetry … and don’t forget to live a little.”

The Forward prizes ceremony is on Monday 28 September at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London at 7pm.


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