Matthew Siegel

Matthew Siegel (b. 1984, New York) knew from the age of 16 that he loved writing poetry more than anything in his life. At the same age, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease: the struggle to remain whole in the face of his condition is the subject of his debut collection, Blood Work (CB Editions 2015).

The book was first published in the USA by the University of Wisconsin Press after the manuscript won the prestigious Felix Pollak prize. It was immediately hailed as ‘a genuine contribution to the literature of illness’ by the poet Mark Doty, who said ‘in Siegel’s capable hands, illness reveals how barely contained any human being is, and how we reach, alone and together, for whatever will hold us.’

The poets Matthew most admires are Walt Whitman and Rainer Maria Rilke. His own advice to a young poet is to ‘be an active, hungry reader and you have to be willing to not look for reasons to dismiss work too quickly. Be ruthless only with your own truth. Know when you’re saying something that isn’t true.’

Matthew was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, USA and his works have appeared in Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Tusculum Review, and Southern Humanities Review. He currently teaches Literature and Creative Writing at San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Read the Forward Prizes Q&A with Matthew Siegel here: “All I can say is that writing poetry keeps us alive, helps us see the world, and what separates us from the rest is that we can’t not do it. It clarifies, in some way, our existence.”

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (b. 1942, Cork) remembers ‘being flabbergasted by the finesse and symmetry of a Shakespeare sonnet’ when her mother read to her as a child. ‘People said poetry was difficult, so I said “I’ll do that”’.

She started writing poems seriously when she was fifteen: ‘It was very obscure because I was writing about things I didn’t understand. then, at 20 or so, a poem got published, and I began to realise that if people were to read it, the writing had better be clearer. I still write about things I don’t understand, like sex and death and history, but I try to find ways of making them more articulate’.

A translator and editor, as well as a poet, Ní Chuilleanáin has won many literary prizes, including the 2010 Griffin Prize.  She co-founded the literary magazine Cyphers, and she has also edited Poetry Ireland Review. She is an Emeritus Fellow and Professor of English at Trinity College Dublin.

Her 2015 collection The Boys of Bluehill (The Gallery Press, 2015) was named after a traditional Irish hornpipe. She says it was clear to her from the start that it would have a musical core: it includes poems about trying to make sense of the past, her violinist sister, nuns and her first grandchild. The Guardian recently compared her work ‘with her love of dens, hiding-places, ruins and language itself as an in-between space’ to that of her compatriot Samuel Beckett. The real drama of The Boys of Bluehill, said the reviewer ‘takes place in shadowy, marginal zones.’

Her advice to new poets is: ‘Read and keep reading…and definitely never live with anyone who thinks poetry is your hobby.’

Read the Forward Prizes Q&A with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin: “At the core of every poet is an immense arrogance and ego […] the poems won’t come if you starve him.”

Sarah Howe

Sarah Howe (b 1983, Hong Kong) came as a child to England, her father’s country, but grew increasingly interested in the history of her mother, who fled from China in 1949. She says for a long time, poetry was something she did ‘under the radar of my official life as a university teacher and literary critic.’

‘Strangely, poetry became the place where I explored my Chineseness, something that otherwise had not place in my life – except perhaps for a hankering to go home to my mum’s fried noodles.’ It is no coincidence, she adds, that she began to write poetry in earnest while on a scholarship to Harvard, ‘a period of geographical displacement, when home was far away and imaginary again.’

The poems in her debut collection, Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus, 2014), span a decade: the earliest is inspired by two journeys: her mother’s as a baby and her own first trip to the Chinese mainland in 2004.

Her 2009 pamphlet, A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia (Tall-lighthouse), won an Eric Gregory Award, while her poems have appeared widely in magazines and, in 2014, were anthologised in Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe).

She is the founding editor of Prac Crit, an online journal of poetry and criticism and is a Research Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where she teaches Renaissance Literature. In 2015-16, she take up a year’s writing fellowship at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute: ‘It feels like coming full circle.’

Read the Forward Prizes Q&A with Sarah Howe: “It’s funny how being ‘caught between two worlds’ is such a prevalent theme in my writing […] I began to realize how that tension – endlessly hopping back and forth across a dividing line – might actually be something productive, crucial even, to my sensibility.”

Andrew McMillan

Andrew McMillan (b. 1988, Barnsley) grew up in a house with lots of poetry books and acknowledges Thom Gunn as a major influence: ‘the first poet I read who I thought represented something of my own experience’.  He describes his debut collection physical (Cape Poetry) as ‘a collection about the male gaze on the male body’. He began it 2008, after breaking up with his first long-term boyfriend: as the collection developed, he found himself creating  ‘physical, tight, muscular poems which would look un-emotionally at things which had happened, and attempt to come to some sort of redemption from them’.

He has published three pamphlets with Red Squirrel Press, every salt advance (2009), the moon is a supporting player (2011) and protest of the physical (2013) and his poems have featured in 2011’s Salt Book of Younger Poets as well as in Best British Poetry 2013 (Salt). He was named a ‘new voice’ in 2012 by both Latitude Festival and Aldeburgh Poetry Festival.

Andrew is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University and a writer in residence at the charity First Story.

Read the Forward Prizes Q&A with Andrew McMillan: “I realized 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.”

Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon (b 1951, Portadown, County Armagh) started writing poetry at the age of 13. ‘Then, as now, I was fascinated by the power of words to make me see things as if for the first time’ he says. ‘A flea. A forest. A fluorescent light.’

He  studied at Queen’s University Belfast: while still a student, his first poetry collection was published by Faber and Faber. Although later accolades include the Pulitzer Prize and the role of Oxford Professor of Poetry, but perhaps the most memorable came in those early days from Seamus Heaney, to whom the young Muldoon showed a batch of poems with the question: what could be done to improve them? ‘Nothing’, Heaney replied.

Since 1987, Muldoon has lived in the United States, where he is a Professor at Princeton University, poetry editor of The New Yorker and the guitarist and lyricist for a band, Wayside Shrines.

Quizzed about One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Faber, 2014), he admits he finds starting a new collection hard. ‘Each time out, it seems as if one might have discovered the source of the Nile,’ he says. ‘More often than not, it’s a septic tank in one’s own backyard.’

 Read the Forward Prizes Q&A with Paul Muldoon: “One of the things one realizes, as one gets on a bit, is how very hard it is to be any good. I’m now much more humble before the idea of being an artist than I was when I was a teenager.”

George Szirtes

George Szirtes (b. 1948) came to England in 1956 as a refugee from Hungary following the Hungarian Uprising. He was educated in England, and has always written in English. He was brought up in London, going on to study fine art in London and Leeds. He wrote poetry alongside his art and his first collection, The Slant Door, appeared in 1979 and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. After his second collection was published he was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Other acclaimed collections followed, including Bridge Passages (Bloodaxe, 1991) which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, Reel (Bloodaxe, 2004) which won the T S Eliot Prize, and his New and Collected Poems published by Bloodaxe in 2008. His most recent collection, Bad Machine (Bloodaxe, 2013) was a Poetry Book Society Choice and gained him another T S Eliot Prize shortlisting. In addition to his own poetry, Szirtes has translated, edited and anthologized numerous collections of Hungarian poetry.

At the heart of his work is the dual perspective of an exile. In his work English individualism and Eastern European influences meet, creating fascinating tensions. A return trip to his native Budapest in 1984 proved a particularly fruitful trigger for his creativity. This city has always been a haunting presence in his poetry, a result of displacement and the consequent negotiation between a European sensibility and English culture. The past is deeply ambiguous, vulnerable to the reconstructions of memory. Myth and fairy tale rub shoulders with ordinary details from English life, while the malign presence of history and totalitarian politics hovers at the edges.

These ambiguities and complexities are held in place by a rigorous and ambitious use of form. Terza rime and the sonnet are favourites, and Szirtes has commented on the importance to him of rhyme describing it as an “unexpected salvation, the paper nurse that somehow, against all the odds, helps us stick the world together while all the time drawing attention to its own fabricated nature.”

Sean O’Brien

Sean O’Brien (b. 1952) has been described as the leading poet–editor–critic of his generation. He was born in London but grew up in Hull. The North East – its landscapes, history and culture – have remained a core influence and concern in his poetry. He graduated from Selwyn College, Cambridge, and spent the 1980s teaching in a secondary school in East Sussex. Since then he’s made a career as a writer and academic, with fellowships at the universities of Dundee, Leeds, Durham and Newcastle, as well as at universities in Denmark and Japan. From 1998 to 2006, he taught creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University where in 2003 he was made professor of poetry. He is now professor of creative writing at Newcastle University and a vice-president of The Poetry Society.

His many poetry collections include The Indoor Park (Bloodaxe, 1983), winner of a Somerset Maugham Award, The Frighteners (Bloodaxe, 1987), HMS Glasshouse (Oxford University Press, 1991), Ghost Train (Oxford University Press, 1995) and Downriver (Picador, 2001). With the publication of The Drowned Book (Picador, 2007), O’Brien achieved the unique feat of winning the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection of the Year for the third time, the only poet to have won this prize more than once. This collection also won the 2007 T S Eliot Prize, while his collection, November (Picador, 2011) was shortlisted for both the T S Eliot Prize and the 2011 Forward Prize for Best Collection. His most recent collection, The Beautiful Librarians (Picador, 2015), is a Poetry Book Society Choice.

As a critic he has been very influential, his collection of essays about contemporary poetry, The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (Bloodaxe, 1998) regarded as a classic. He is also a playwright, journalist and short story writer, and in 2009 published his first novel, Afterlife.

His imaginative landscape remains rooted in its own version of the north, from the bombed streets of Hull to the economic deprivations of his adopted city, Newcastle. It’s a world of hidden gardens, railway lines, estuaries, industry and decline, a territory he has made his own, exploring it with an increasingly intense, dream-like quality. Combining literariness with colloquial language, O’Brien’s work can be angrily satirical but also ruefully humorous in its treatment of his abiding themes of history, politics and class.

Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra (b. 1966) was the first poet to win the Forward Prize for both his first collection of poetry, in 2007, and for its title poem, ‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’, three years earlier. His second collection, Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! (Faber and Faber, 2011) was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize and was the Guardian and The Independent’s Book of the Year. His third collection, Ramayana (Faber and Faber, 2014) is a retelling of the ancient Indian myth about Rama’s quest to recover his wife Sita from her abduction by Raavana, the Lord of the Underworld.

Nagra was born and raised in West London, then Sheffield. He currently lives in Harrow with his wife and daughters and works in a secondary school. In 2014 he was named a Next Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society.

Nagra’s first collection gained a lot of media attention for its brilliant and irreverent exploration of the experience of British-born Indians. Driven by the energies of this culture clash, his poetry often employs ‘Punglish’ – English spoken by Indian Punjabi immigrants. He is as concerned with British-ness as Asian-ness, especially the points where these two conditions collide. While dealing with serious issues, including the racism he experienced growing up, the poems are characteristically upbeat, charming and humorous, with a formal dexterity as inventive as his language.

Andrew Motion

Professor Andrew Motion (b. 1952) was born in London but grew up in rural Essex, a background which gave him an abiding love for the English countryside. These early years were formative in other ways: he was introduced to poetry by a supportive school teacher, while the early loss of his mother through a riding accident shadows much of his work. Motion read English at University College, Oxford where he was taught by W.H. Auden. He went on to teach English at the University of Hull (1976–81) where he met the poet Philip Larkin, another abiding influence. He was editor of Poetry Review (1981–83) and was poetry editor and editorial director at London publishers Chatto & Windus (1983–89). He has been professor of creative writing at the University of East Anglia and at Royal Holloway, University of London. An acclaimed poet (and champion of poetry), critic, biographer and lecturer, Motion succeeded Ted Hughes as Poet Laureate in 1999.

His work has been recognised by many awards including The Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Dangerous Play: Poems 1974–1984 (Salamander Press, 1984), the Dylan Thomas Award for Natural Causes (Chatto & Windus, 1987), and the Somerset Maughan Award and the Whitbread Biography Award for Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life (Faber and Faber, 1993). Other key collections include The Price of Everything (Faber and Faber, 1994); Salt Water (Faber and Faber, 1997) and Public Property, a collection of poems he wrote as Poet Laureate (Faber and Faber, 2002). His latest collection of poems is The Customs House (Faber and Faber 2012), and his sequence of poems based on interviews with British soldiers returning from Afghanistan won the 2014 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

His poetry is characterised by an interest in narrative and an understated, meditative style which links him to an English tradition that can be traced through Edward Thomas, Thomas Hardy and back to Wordsworth. He often uses fictionalised narrators and historical events to explore his themes. While possessing an accessible clarity, his poems are powerful for what they omit as much as for what they contain, suggesting undercurrents of emotion that his narrators are either unaware of or unwilling to disclose.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney (1939–2013) rose from humble beginnings as a County Derry farm boy to become one of the giants of 20th-century poetry. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, his work is known and loved around the world.

The eldest child of nine, Heaney grew up in County Derry, Northern Ireland. The memories, people and landscapes of his early years were an inspiration he returned to time and again in his poems. His academic career began with a scholarship to St Columb’s College, Derry, and led him to Queen’s University, Belfast and then on to distinguished posts at Harvard and Oxford, where he was Professor of Poetry.

Heaney wrote over 20 books of poetry and criticism. Key early collections include his first, Death of a Naturalist (Faber and Faber, 1966), Door into the Dark (Faber and Faber, 1969) and North (Faber and Faber, 1975). Of his later collections, Electric Light (Faber and Faber, 2001) and District and Circle (Faber and Faber, 2006) were both shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize, as was his final collection Human Chain (Faber and Faber, 2010) which also won the Forward Prize for Best Collection. He was also a celebrated translator whose version of Beowulf (Faber and Faber, 1999) became an unlikely bestseller, winning the Whitbread Book of the Year Award.

His poetry is informed by his wide learning and knowledge of literature, but never overwhelmed by it. Rather, he roots his work in the specific, alert to the miracles of ordinary happenings. Allied to a rich music of consonant and rhythm influenced by the cadences of his native Northern Irish accent, these qualities mean his poetry appeals as much to the ear and the heart as to the mind. It’s perhaps these aspects of his work which have made him a genuinely popular poet, one of the few that people beyond the poetry world have heard of.

The contentious history of Northern Ireland and its eruption into ‘The Troubles’ also influenced his work, though he refused a simple stance of pro-Republican propaganda, his poetry insisting on the complex realities of the situation. This refusal to become a cheerleader for the Catholic cause drew criticism from some quarters at the time, and partly prompted his later move over the border to the Republic of Ireland. Gradually, however, the integrity of his vision won recognition, culminating in his Nobel citation which praised his work for its ‘lyrical beauty and ethical depth’.

When Seamus Heaney died in 2013, tributes flooded in from around the world. The UK Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, spoke for many when she said that for his ‘brothers and sisters in poetry, he came to be the poet we all measured ourselves against and he demonstrated the true vocational nature of his art for every moment of his life. He is irreplaceable.’

U A Fanthorpe

U.A. Fanthorpe’s death in 2009 was felt as a genuine loss by the many fans of her clear- eyed, humane poems, including Carol Ann Duffy who described her as ‘an unofficial, deeply loved laureate’.

U.A. Fanthorpe (b. 1929) spent her earliest years in Kent. She attended St Anne’s College Oxford, afterwards becoming a teacher and ultimately head of English at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. However, she only began writing when she turned her back on her teaching career to become a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital, where her observation of the ‘strange specialness’ of the patients provided the inspiration for her first book, Side Effects (Peterloo Poets, 1978).

Following that relatively late start, Fanthorpe was prolific, producing nine full-length collections, including the Forward Prize-nominated Safe as Houses (Peterloo Poets, 1995) and the Poetry Book Society Recommendation Consequences (Peterloo Poets, 2000). She was awarded a CBE in 2001 and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003.

Talking of her war-time childhood, Fanthorpe said, ‘I think it’s important not to run away’, and on the surface her poetry seems to encapsulate those traditional, stoic English values we associate with the period. Certainly England and Englishness are central themes in her work, but such a reading misses the wit and sly debunking of national myth which mark Fanthorpe’s sensibility.

Tishani Doshi

Poet, writer and dancer Tishani Doshi was born in the city formerly known as Madras, India, to Welsh and Gujarati parents. She earned a BA from Queens College in North Carolina and an MA from the Writing Seminars department at Johns Hopkins University. After working in the fashion-magazine industry in London, Doshi returned to India. An unexpected meeting with one of Indian dance’s leading choreographers, Chandralekha, led Doshi to a career in dance.

As well as performing as a dancer all over the world, she is a freelance journalist and has published five books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her first book of poetry, Countries of the Body (Aark Arts, 2006), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her second collection of poems, Everything Begins Elsewhere (Bloodaxe, 2013), was published simultaneously in the United States, England and India. Doshi’s first novel, The Pleasure Seekers (Bloomsbury, 2010), was shortlisted for the Hindu Literary Prize and long-listed for the Orange Prize, and has been translated into several languages.

She currently lives on a beach between two fishing villages in Tamil Nadu with her husband and three dogs.

Ciaran O’Driscoll

Ciaran O’Driscoll (b. 1943) is an Irish poet whose work blends dark humour and lyrical craft. He has published eight books of poetry including Gog and Magog (Salmon, 1987), Moving On, Still There: New and Selected Poems (Dedalus Press, 2001) and more recently Surreal Man, a chapbook of 21 poems (Pighog, 2006), and Vecchie Donne di Magione, a dual-language edition of poems in an Italian setting (Volumnia Editrice, 2006). In 2001, Liverpool University Press published his childhood memoir, A Runner Among Falling Leaves. His most recent collection was Life Monitor, published in 2009 by Three Spires Press. He has won a number of awards for his work, among them the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. In 2007 he was elected to Aosdána, an institution established by the Irish Arts Council to honour artists and writers who have made an outstanding contribution to art and literature.

O’Driscoll’s early influences were the classical Modernists of the 20th century including T S Eliot and Saint-John Perse. However, over time O’Driscoll found their purity of style and oblique manner increasingly at odds with what he wanted to express, particularly his anger at political folly and social injustice. He turned to satire as an alternative and this enabled him to create the new poetic voice for which he is now best known. He now lives in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.

Roderick Ford

Born in Swansea, Roderick Ford has lived a nomadic life, experiencing many different cultures which have informed his work. He was taken to Australia as an infant and when he was eight his parents moved to England, where growing up in the 1960s, he strongly identified with the counterculture of the time.  In the early 1970s he lived and worked in Africa and the Persian Gulf.  On his return to England, his then undiagnosed Aspergers (which was not well understood at the time) led to him being kept inappropriately heavily tranquillised until the early 1990s, when, released from medication, he moved to Paris and began writing poetry.  Using Paris as a base, he travelled in Europe and lived for long periods in Amsterdam, Venice, Stockholm and Svartsö (a wooded island in the Baltic), which informed and deepened his poetry. In 1999 he visited Ireland for the first time and decided to make it his permanent home.

Ford’s poetry is profoundly affected by his autism, which populates his work with solitary, outsider figures, sometimes only partly human, stranded on the borders between worlds and excluded from normal human relationships.  He has published two poetry collections, The Shoreline of Falling (Bradshaw Books, 2005), which was shortlisted for a Glen Dimplex First Book Award, and The Green Crown (Bradshaw Books, 2010). Individual poems have been successful in many competitions: in 2005 he won the Listowel Single Poem Prize, in 2006 he was shortlisted for the Strokestown English Language Prize, and in 2007 he won the Francis Ledwidge Award. He has also been shortlisted in the Keats–Shelley Prize in 2008 and the Bridport Prize in 2009, and was commended in the National Poetry Competition. He currently lives in Dublin.

Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore (b. 1952) is an acclaimed poet and best-selling novelist whose work in both genres has won much praise and popularity. Born in Yorkshire, the second of four children, and with a large extended family, Dunmore grew up surrounded by stories, fairy tales, ballads – an early grounding that would prove influential.

She studied English at York University and then taught for two years in Finland. Her debut collection, The Apple Fall, was one of the first titles published by Bloodaxe Books. Her second, The Sea Skater, won the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award. Her fiction career began with short stories before her first novel was published in 1994: Zennor in Darkness, set during the First World War when D.H. Lawrence lived at Zennor in Cornwall, won the McKitterick Prize.

Since then Dunmore has become one of our most acclaimed literary figures, winning many prizes including the inaugural Orange Prize for Fiction and The Signal Poetry Award for children’s poetry. Her eight poetry collections for adults have been awarded the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendations, while Bestiary (Bloodaxe, 1997) was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize and the title poem of The Malarkey (Bloodaxe, 2012) won the National Poetry Competition. She is a fellow of the Royal Society for Literature.

Her writing, in both prose and poetry, is known for its lyrical intensity which can be both delicate and piercing. Her language is sensual and exact, recreating scenes for the reader that lodge in your mind. Many of her poems have the mysterious, compressed quality of a short story. Her writing demonstrates more public concerns, too, in particular threats to the natural environment and a fascination for history – many of her novels are set in the past.

Ian Duhig

FORWARD PRIZE FOR BEST COLLECTION SHORTLIST

Ian Duhig (b. 1954, London) is particularly celebrated for his poem ‘The Lammas Hireling’, which won both the National Poetry Competition and the 2001 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Having worked with homeless people for fifteen years and finding, as he writes, that ‘location and poetry dissolve into each other for me’, Duhig has inserted a rare depth of understanding of his native Leeds into his poetry.

‘Poetry drew me in because it can contain so much so easily in its own paradoxical compass’, he has written. Certainly paradoxical clashes frequently find expression in his poetry, including The Blind Roadmaker, his shortlisted collection; modern chatter alongside myth and lore, litheness of thought alongside strict metrical forms, a mischievous humour alongside a devastating sense of tragedy. Chosen as one of the Poetry Book Society’s New Generation of poets in 1994, with Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage, Duhig shares those poets’ ability to dramatise contemporary concerns in technically accomplished verse.

Duhig’s advice to aspiring poets is practical: ‘learn to live on very little. Never underestimate what a massive pain in the arse you will be to your loved ones and everybody else. Be lucky and be kind.’

Ciaran Carson

Ciaran Carson (b. 1948, Belfast)  says of his upbringing: ‘I was reared bilingually, Irish being the language of the home and English that of the outside world.’

He studied at Queen’s University Belfast where he was part of ‘The Group’ with Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian and Frank Ormsby.

He worked as a musician, in the Civil Service and as a teacher before becoming Professor of Poetry at his alma mater. He won the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2003 for Breaking News.

From Elsewhere (The Gallery Press, 2015) is a book of ‘translations of translations’ from the French poet Jean Follain, each faced by new poems inspired by those translations.’

He says of this book: ‘I wonder how far all this double-dealing comes from my bilingual background, as embodied in my name, Ciaran the Catholic Irish, Carson the Protestant Ulsterman. At any rate I relish the ambiguity.’

Read the Forward Prizes Q&A with Ciaran Carson: “Poetry is meant to affect you, if not to infect you, to get into your bloodstream […] it is only by absorbing the voice of others that you find your own.”

Ros Barber

Ros Barber (b. 1964) was born in Washington D.C. to British parents, grew up in Essex, but moved to Brighton on the south coast of England at the age of 18. An academic, poet and novelist, she is well known as an expert on the Elizabethan poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe, the inspiration behind her verse novel, The Marlowe Papers (Sceptre, 2012) which re-imagines Marlowe as the pen behind the works of Shakespeare. She has written three collections of poetry, the most recent (Material, 2008) being a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

In 2013, The Marlowe Papers was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize, jointly awarded the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and long-listed for the Women’s Prize (formerly Orange Prize) for Fiction. In 2011, pre-publication, it was joint winner of the annual Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize.

Barber is a visiting research fellow at the University of Sussex, lecturer in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and director of research at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust.

For 12 years she taught creative writing for the University of Sussex on both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. She has been visiting lecturer at Brunel, Kent, and Notts Trent Universities. Since 2012 she has been teaching week-long residential courses for both the Arvon Foundation and the Ty Newydd Writers Centre in Wales.

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage (b.1963) is one of the UK’s best known and loved poets. He was born in the village of Marsden and lives in West Yorkshire. Until 1994 he worked as a probation officer in Greater Manchester.

Since his debut collection Zoom (Bloodaxe, 1989) was awarded a Poetry Book Society Choice, his work has gained a reputation and audience far beyond most contemporary poets. He is also a prolific writer: his many collections include Kid (Faber & Faber, 1992), Book of Matches (Faber & Faber, 1993), Cloud Cuckoo Land (Faber & Faber, 1997), The Universal Home Doctor (Faber & Faber, 2002) and Seeing Stars (Faber & Faber, 2010), alongside highly acclaimed translations.

His prose works include two novels and a best-selling memoir, All Points North (Penguin, 1998). He has also written extensively for radio, television, film and stage, including four stage plays and a dramatisation of The Odyssey for BBC Radio 4. His play for Radio 4, Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, about the true story of a teenager brutally set upon in a park by a gang for being a Goth, received unprecedented listener feedback.

His work has received numerous awards including being shortlisted five times for the T S Eliot Prize, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, the Keats Shelley Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in the USA. He was awarded a CBE in 2010 for services to poetry.

Vicki Feaver

Vicki Feaver (b. 1943) grew up in Nottingham ‘in a house of quarrelling women’, an emotional inheritance which finds later expression in her poetry. She studied music at Durham University and English at University College, London, and worked as a lecturer in English and Creative Writing at University College, Chichester, becoming emeritus professor.

Her three collections have been highly praised. The second, The Handless Maiden (Jonathan Cape, 1994), included both the Arvon International Poetry Competition finalist ‘Lily Pond’, and ‘Judith’, winner of the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Single Poem. The same collection was also given a Heinemann Prize and shortlisted for the Forward Prize. Her most recent collection, The Book of Blood (Jonathan Cape, 2006) was shortlisted for the 2006 Costa Poetry Award.

Her dark and sensual re-workings of myth and fairy tale have been termed ‘domestic gothic’ by fellow poet Matthew Sweeney. While her poems incorporate objects from everyday life, Feaver often grafts them on to the transgressive power of these old tales, allowing her a space to explore emotions and desires which women are not usually allowed (or don’t allow themselves) to express. A central concern of her work is female creativity and its repression, and how this can find an outlet in violence.

Vicki Feaver currently lives in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.