2016’s judging panel was chaired by Malika Booker, poet and multidisciplinary artist, and included poets George Szirtes and Liz Berry, with singer/songwriter Tracey Thorn and Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.
They chose the winners of the Forward Prize for Best Collection (£15,000), the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000) and the Best Single Poem Prize (£1,000). The Prizes are among the most coveted literary awards in the UK and Ireland: collections of poetry published here during the year ending September 2016 are eligible, as are prize-winning single poems or poems nominated by journal editors.
Poems from the shortlists, plus works commended by the judges, were published as the 25th Forward Book of Poetry, on the eve of the prize ceremony on 20 September 2016 at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
Malika Booker is a British poet, playwright and multidisciplinary artist of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage. She is the founder of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a London-based writers’ collective with branches in New York and Chicago. She has represented British writing internationally, independently and with the British Council. Her first stage show Absolution was commissioned by The Austrian Cultural Institute and Apples & Snakes. Her poems are widely published in anthologies and her poetry collection Pepper Seed, published by Peepal Tree Press in 2013, was long-listed for the OCM Bocas 2014 prize then shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre 2014 prize. Booker was the inaugural Poet in Residence at the RSC as well as a Cave Canem Fellow. She is currently a Douglas Caster Fellow at University of Leeds.
She says: “This is an exciting time nationally and internationally for poetry. Last year we saw poets who are normally positioned at the margins taking centre stage. We saw traditional poets pushing against our rigid criteria of what constitutes a poem. Poets are experimenting, redefining and reconstructing their poetics. I have seen some amazing new collections hit the market place already and am therefore delighted to be able to read this year’s poetic offerings whilst chairing such a distinguished and talented cohort of Forward Prizes judges.”
Liz Berry was born in the Black Country and now lives in Birmingham. Her debut collection, Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014. Black Country was chosen as a poetry book of the year by The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Big Issue and The Morning Star.
Don Share is the editor of Poetry magazine and is based in Chicago, at the Poetry Foundation. His most recent books are Wishbone (Black Sparrow, 2012), Union (Eyewear, 2013), and Bunting’s Persia (Flood Editions, 2012); he has also edited a critical edition of Basil Bunting’s poems for Faber and Faber (forthcoming 2016). His work at Poetry has been recognised with three National Magazine Awards for editorial excellence and he received a “VIDO” Award in 2015 from VIDA: Women in Literary Arts for his contributions to American literature and literary community.
George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948 and came to Britain as an eight-year-old refugee. He studied fine art in London and Leeds and trained as a painter. He has published many collections of poetry and his translations from Hungarian to English are acclaimed.
Accolades include the 2004 T. S. Eliot Prize, for his collection Reel, and the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, as translator of László Krasznahorkai. He lives in Norfolk where, until recently, he taught Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.
Tracey Thorn, singer/songwriter, was one half of the duo Everything But The Girl from 1982 to 2000. Since 2007 she has released three solo albums, Out of the Woods, Love and Its Opposite and Tinsel and Lights. She is the author of the bestselling memoir Bedsit Disco Queen and most recently, Naked at the Albert Hall.
She says: “I’m really happy to be judging the Forward Prizes and to have the chance to spend more time than usual reading and thinking about poetry. I’ve been writing songs since I was a teenager and recognise obvious similarities between lyrics and poems: both rely on timing, on pauses and pacing, and although song lyrics need music to bring them alive, poetry has its own music, built into the words.”