The winners of the Forward Prizes for Poetry were announced on 1 October 2013: a selection of their poetry, plus work by more than 60 poets short-listed and highly commended by the judges, is currently on sale as The Forward Book of Poetry 2014.
Michael Symmons Roberts won the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection for Drysalter (Cape Poetry), a book of 150 poems, each just 15 lines long. The book, whose title refers to a kind of high-street shop which stocks poisons, powders, gums and drugs, with a nod, too, to the Psalter, was praised by the judges for its powerful spirituality.
“We need to be able to talk of matters of faith and the soul, and how the soul intersects with the heart. What Symmons Roberts does is difficult but necessary now – it addresses a fissure in the human psyche: how we deal with faith and with secularism, how we find a life.. It is an outstanding winner,” said Jeanette Winterson, chairman of the 2013 Forward judges. She praised Symmons Roberts, an atheist who converted to Catholicism at university, for challenging the “fundamentalism” of militant atheists like Richard Dawkins.
The £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for Best First Collection was awarded to Emily Berry, for Dear Boy (Faber and Faber), a dramatic and inventive debut featuring a series of deft, seductive and disturbing soliloquies. Winterson said that the judging had been particularly difficult, but that Berry’s unsettling work stood out for its confidence and power: “The Best First collection category has a political dimension. As judges we had to note what voices are speaking, and what are those voices saying about our world now. Dear Boy is not bound by the modern, but has an ear to the ground for the pavement beats of life. We like the confidence of the first person, multiple, reflective and new.”
The £1,000 prize for Best Single Poem went to Nick MacKinnon for The Metric System, first published in The Warwick Review.
Winterson, whose judging panel included the actor/director Samuel West, the journalist David Mills and the poets Paul Farley and Sheenagh Pugh, said: “This is a powerful year for poetry. We made our choices looking for poems that used a lit-up living language and had a sense of purpose.”
The Forward prizes are unique in honouring both the work of established poets (Best Collection £10,000) and the debuts of brilliant unknowns (Best First Collection £5,000). The Best Single Poem award (£1,000) is a prize for which only award-winning poems and published works not yet collected in book form are eligible.
The prizes were awarded at the Southbank centre on October 1, in a sold-out event featuring readings by Samuel West, Helen McCrory, Martin Jarvis, Juliet Stevenson and Natascha McElhone. The event was produced in association with Kirsty Peart of WordTheatre and directed by Cedering Fox. The decision to use actors to read the shortlisted poetry provoked vigorous debate: some poets, publishers and bloggers insist that poetry should be read aloud only by its authors and no one else, while others reckon that a poem lives in the voices, ears and minds of the many, not the few.
The shortlisted contenders for the £10,000 Forward Prize for Best Collection were Rebecca Goss, Glyn Maxwell, Sinead Morrissey, Jacob Polley and Michael Symmons Roberts.
The poets shortlisted for the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection were Emily Berry, Marianne Burton, Steve Ely, Hannah Lowe, Dan O’Brien and Adam White.
The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem shortlist was Patience Agbabi, Nick Mackinnon, Rosie Shepperd and Hugo Williams. CJ Allen was shortlisted but pulled out after conceding that he had, in the past, plagiarised the poetry of others.