Forward Prizes for Poetry 2020 Judges

Portraits of the judges: Leaf Arbuthnot, Kim Moore, Alexandra Harris (chair), Roger Robinson, David Wheatley
Leaf Arbuthnot, Kim Moore, Alexandra Harris (chair), Roger Robinson, David Wheatley
Image credits: Alex Harris – Vikki Beddoes

Writer, critic and social historian Alexandra Harris will chair the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2020 judging panel. She is joined by poets Kim Moore, Roger Robinson and David Wheatley, and journalist Leaf Arbuthnot.

I am truly delighted and honoured to chair the judges for the 2020 Forward Prizes. I spend much time thinking about the history of literature, but never before have I felt so powerfully that literary history is being made now, as extraordinary writers are finding words and forms for the times. No one style or school is enough: readers and writers together are learning newly each day the arts of polyphony.

            There’s a special capaciousness in the Forward Prizes. For starters, there’s not one competition but three; there’ll be room on our shortlists for ten collections and five single poems; beyond this a whole varied landscape of ‘Commended’ poems will open vistas. Saved up in the annual Forward Book of Poetry, these words will carry on their unexpected conversations together for years to come.

            It’s an amazing privilege for a non-poet to be involved in a poetry prize, and here too is a kind of Forward stretchiness, encouraging exchange between general readers and some of the finest practitioners around. I am exceedingly fortunate in having the chance to discuss the year’s poetry with Roger Robinson, David Wheatley, Kim Moore and Leaf Arbuthnot. The very prospect makes me feel more like a student than any grand adjudicator: I’m keen to read all day, change my mind, listen attentively to others, feel for the words that return in the night. It’s a joy to be starting out on this adventure, with reading light angled, mind open, and worlds unfolding, here and now, in the palm of my hand.

Alexandra Harris, Forward Prizes Chair 2020

Alexandra Harris is a writer, teacher, literary critic and cultural historian. Her work includes Romantic Moderns (2010), Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies (2015), Time and Place (2019) and many essays on books, paintings, people and places; she is currently working on a study of rural history and local feeling. She reviews for the Guardian and has presented a range of arts programmes for BBC radio. She is a Professor of English at the University of Birmingham and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Leaf Arbuthnot is a freelance journalist and poetry critic whose reviews have been published in the Sunday Times, the Times Literary Supplement, Ambit and elsewhere. She judged the 2017 Michael Marks Awards for poetry pamphlets. Her first novel, Looking for Eliza, is to be published by Orion in May, and is about a cranky poet’s unlikely friendship with a young woman in Oxford.

Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling (Seren, 2015) won the 2016 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. She won a Northern Writers Award in 2014, an Eric Gregory Award in 2011 and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2010.  Her pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition. She is a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University and is working on her second collection. Along with Clare Shaw, she is Co-Director of Kendal Poetry Festival.

Roger Robinson is a writer who has performed worldwide and was chosen by Decibel as one of 50 writers who have influenced the black-British writing canon. He was shortlisted for The OCM Bocas Poetry Prize, The Oxford Brookes Poetry Prize, highly commended by the Forward Poetry Prize. He is an alumnus of The Complete Works. His latest book A Portable Paradise was chosen as a New Statesman Book Of The Year and won the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019. He has toured extensively with the British Council and is a co-founder of both Spoke Lab and the international writing collective Malika’s Kitchen.

David Wheatley was born in Dublin and has published five collections of poetry, most recently The President of Planet Earth (Carcanet, 2017). A former Forward Prize shortlistee, he has been awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize. He writes on poetry for many journals, including The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, and London Review of Books, and is the author of a critical study, Contemporary British Poetry (Palgrave, 2015). He lectures at the University of Aberdeen.