Jeffrey Wainwright (b. 1944 Stoke-on-Trent) discovered his love for poetry at school thanks to his English teacher, Ken Lowe. He has long been fascinated by American poetry, from Whitman to Stevens, partly ‘because it is not English’. He is drawn, in his writing, to Italian art: ‘An Empty Street’ was inspired by Ottone Rosai’s painting Via San Leonardo. While at university in Leeds, Wainwright met and learned from many poets working in or around the English School, including Geoffrey Hill. His first poems published nationally were edited from Leeds by Jon Silkin and Ken Smith. He was editor of Poetry and Audience, one of the longest-running poetry magazines in the UK, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year
Jack Underwood (b. 1984 Norwich) completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, where he also teaches English Literature and Creative Writing.
His first poem was about a pair of Adidas Gazelle trainers covered in biro graffiti. Underwood enjoyed poetry at school, though he felt that poems were by ‘dead people’. After studying Simon Armitage at college, the idea of writing a ‘real, live poem’ suddenly seemed ‘plausible’. His favourite poets include Sam Riviere, Emily Berry – both winners of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection – Jennifer Knox and Philip Larkin.
He teaches at the Poetry School, co-edits the anthology series Stop Sharpening Your Knives, and reviews for Poetry London and Poetry Review. His debut collection Happiness will be published by Faber in 2015.
Stephen Santus (b. 1948 Wigan) has been writing poetry since 1965. His interest was sparked by his older brother who loved to read poetry and Shakespeare aloud. Santus appreciates classical Chinese poets and the Japanese haiku and tanka writers for their delicacy and emotional accessibility. He teaches English in a language school in Oxford, having previously taught in France and Austria. He also admires Philip Larkin and his ‘ability to sneak deep truths past you when you think you are just having a pint and a chat at the bar’.
THE FORWARD PRIZE FOR BEST COLLECTION SHORTLIST
Denise Riley (b 1948, Carlisle) is a philosopher and feminist theorist as well as an admired poet. She’s written eight works of nonfiction, including the influential “Am I That Name?”: Feminism and the Category of “Women” in History.
Riley can be seen as the UK’s best answer to the New York School poets, a movement whose riotous running together of art theory and philosophy with everyday speech and pop culture has been one of the dominant trends in poetry over the last half-century. From her first book, Marxism for Infants, through to her astonishingly varied and ambitious Mop Mop Georgette, she has successfully sought to make abstract intellectual questions vivid, pressing and personal.
In Say Something Back, Riley explores how our personal concerns – loss, cruelty, mortality – have implications for the way in which we, as a species, exist within the world. Central to the book is her elegy ‘A Part Song’ – winner of the 2012 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem – which was written after the death of her son. She says it was composed ‘in imagined solidarity with the endless others whose adult children have died, often in far worse circumstances.’
She is currently Professor of the History of Ideas and of Poetry at UEA. Her visiting positions have included A.D. White Professor at Cornell University in the US, Writer in Residence at the Tate Gallery in London, and Visiting Fellow at Birkbeck College in the University of London.
Tim Nolan (b. 1954 Minneapolis) wrote his first poem on the Vietnam War, at the age of 14. ‘It was terrible,’ he says. ‘The poem and the war.’ He has since published two collections. The poem included here is one of several written during a one-month residency at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota in October 2013, during which he ran a poetry workshop at Red Wing’s juvenile detention centre. Garrison Keillor has read a number of Nolan’s poems on The Writer’s Almanac on National Public Radio and others have been published in The Nation, The New Republic and Ploughshares. He cites Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams as inspirations, and values poems that have ‘serious intentions, but a light touch’.
Roger Stevens founded and runs the award-winning Poetry Zone website, which encourages children to write and publish their poetry and offers guidance and ideas for teachers on now to make the teaching of poetry fun and rewarding.
Since 1998 The Poetry Zone has published around 20,000 poems by young people and had millions of visitors – children and teenagers, real live poets and teachers who use the Poetry Zone as a fun way of teaching poetry in their schools.
Roger has written 24 book and has poems in over 200 children’s anthologies. He loves to edit anthologies for children too: recent ones include A Million Brilliant Poems (part one) (A&C Black) for which he’s been lucky to be able to choose some of his very favourite poems from some of his favourite poets; What Rhymes With Sneeze (A&C Black) – an anthology of rhyming poems and Off By Heart (A&C Black) – poems to memorise, with helpful memorising tips in the back. With Macmillan Children’s Books, he’s published What Are We Fighting For – war poems with Brian Moses and a book of animal poems written with Jan Dean.
He lives in Brighton and France and is frequently invited to visit schools to talk about poetry: if you want him to come to your school, get in touch with him via Authors Abroad.
Enjoy the poem he has written specially for National Poetry Day 2015 here and in the new anthology Light: A National Poetry Day Book
Jan Dean writes poems. Writing poems is wonderfully strange – like playing lucky dip with a barrelful of tigers, raspberry jellies and machine parts. She visits schools where she performs her poetry and then invites the students into her head to play at poem-making. Jan’s head is full of weird stuff – it’s interesting in there… Her latest book –written with Roger Stevens – is ‘The Penguin In Lost Property’ , so Jan is currently taking the Lost Property Office into schools looking for the owners of the ocean, two odd eyeballs and an antler. (While the penguin escapes to have a poetry adventure.)
Who works with light? Fire-fighters, projectionists, nuclear physicists, lighthousekeepers…and the one-woman poetry powerhouse Liz Brownlee, who has rounded up scores of light-workers near Bristol to recite great poems about light to camera. Her films, including a splendid mash-up of Byron’s She Walks in Beauty can be seen on YouTube – and on National Poetry Day they will be screened on the Bristol Big Screen.
Watch Liz’s films here: Astronomer, Optometrist, Photographer, Mash of ‘After Rain, Light’, by Pie Corbett, Actress, Firefighter, Cosmologist, Lightship, Projectionist, Priest, Hindu performer, Fire performer, Wildlife cameraman, Mash of Six Facts About Light by Rachel Rooney and a reading of ‘She Walks in Beauty’ by George Lord Byron, as read by members of the public who work with light.
Paul Cookson has spent twenty five years visiting schools, libraries and literature festivals, performing poems, leading workshops, publishing books and making people laugh – and he still isn’t tired.
The Works is his best selling anthology (over 200,000 and counting) and his latest collection of his own favourite poems is Paul Cookson’s Joke Shop.
He is the Official Poet in Residence for the National Football Museum in Manchester, Poet Laureate for Slade and has travelled the world to share his work. in 2009 he received a National Reading Hero award.
A man of many double acts, he is currently working with ex-popstar and ex-Housemartin Stan Cullimore and they travel round to schools with their ukuleles singing silly songs and poems and generally having fun.
A lifelong Everton fan, Paul has more ukuleles than he has admitted to and more shoes than his wife.
He lives in Retford with his wife, two children, a springer spaniel called Max and too many books and CDs.
For more information you can visit his website or follow him on twitter : @paulcooksonpoet
Brian Moses lives in the small Sussex village of Burwash with his wife Anne, and a loopy labrador called Honey.
He first worked as a teacher but has now been a professional children’s poet for 26 years. To date he has over 200 books published including volumes of his own poetry such as A Cat Called Elvis and Behind the Staffroom Door (both Macmillan), anthologies such as The Secret Lives of Teachers and Aliens Stole My Underpants (both Macmillan) and picture books such as Beetle in the Bathroom and Trouble at the Dinosaur Cafe (both Puffin). Over 1 million copies of Brian’s poetry books have now been sold by Macmillan.
Brian also visits schools to run writing workshops and perform his own poetry and percussion shows. To date he has visited well over 2500 schools and libraries throughout the UK. He has made several appearances at the Edinburgh Festival, been writer in residence at Castle Cornet on Guernsey, and at RAF schools in Cyprus. In September 2006 he was invited to Iceland to take part in ‘Kids in the Marsh’ – a festival of children’s poetry and song. At the request of Prince Charles he spoke at the Prince’s Summer School for Teachers in 2007 at Cambridge University and CBBC commissioned him to write a poem for the Queen’s 80th birthday. He was one of ten children’s poets invited by then Poet Laureate Andrew Motion to feature on the National Poetry Archive when it began in 2005.
He can be booked here to run workshops and perform his poetry.
Vidyan Ravinthiran (b. 1984 Leeds) was encouraged by his Sri Lankan parents to consider literature ‘a wonderful thing’. He began writing poetry by creating versions of Keats’ odes. This changed when he was given the 2002 Forward Book of Poetry by a friend of his mother. ‘I had these old-fashioned ideas about what a poem should be,’ Ravinthiran explains, ‘and I couldn’t square them with the excitements of free verse.’ In 2008, his pamphlet At Home or Nowhere was published by tall- lighthouse. He cites Yeats, Philip Larkin and Arun Kolatkar as early inspirations; Elizabeth Bishop is the subject of his doctoral thesis at Cambridge. Ravinthiran describes his collection, Grun-tu-molani, as ‘the equivalent of the Ravinthiran family Christmas. We have a roast, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, veg, but also a thousand curries… Everything you could want.’
Kevin Powers (b. 1980 Virginia) fought in Iraq as a machine gunner between 2004 and 2005. He began writing poetry aged 12 after buying a collection by Dylan Thomas in a second-hand book shop. ‘I think I wrote my first poem as soon as I finished reading “Fern Hill”,’ he says. His novel about Iraq, The Yellow Birds, won the Guardian First Book Award and is being made into a film starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Powers is a Michener Fellow in poetry at the University of Austin, Texas and cites Larry Levis, Yusef Komunyakaa, Brigit Pegeen Kelly and Dean Young as inspirations for his work, as each ‘share a kind of clarity in the face of difficulty and complexity’. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting was written after his return from service in Iraq. ‘I hoped poetry would allow me to reckon with the difficult questions I had about my service,’ Powers says, ‘in the same way that I had used it to address all the confusion the world had presented me with since I was a teenager.’
Beatrice Garland (b. 1938 Oxford) describes writing as ‘a marvellous part of one’s interior private life’ and cites John Donne, John Clare and Seamus Heaney as inspirations. At school, she was punished for misdemeanours by being forced to memorise poetry. ‘Whole lines and particular individual words themselves became, like sweets, something that could be saved up and enjoyed for their marvellous taste,’ Garland explains.
In 2001, she won the National Poetry Prize. She wrote no poetry for a while afterwards, but focused on her work as an NHS clinician and researcher in psychological medicine. She won the Strokestown International Poetry Competition in 2002 and was shortlisted for the inaugural Picador Poetry Prize. The Invention of Fireworks contains about 50 of the ‘several hundred’ poems Garland has scattered all over the room where she writes.
Niall Campbell (b. 1984 South Uist) began writing poetry as an undergraduate at the University of Glasgow. ‘Reading poetry has the almost inevitable effect of encouraging one to write,’ Campbell explains, ‘because by reading poetry you find yourself enjoined in a conversation between the poet and those gone before and those that might come after.’
He has tried to achieve a unity of tone, image and atmosphere in Moontide. He describes his tastes as ‘Celtic’, naming Seamus Heaney, Don Paterson, John Glenday and Kathleen Jamie as inspirations. In 2011, Campbell received an Eric Gregory Award, followed by a Jerwood/Arvon mentorship in 2013.
Fiona Benson (b. 1978 Wroughton) began keeping a poetry notebook at 17 on hearing that someone she knew wrote poetry. Suddenly, poetry ‘seemed permissible and possible’. She discovered Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson at this time. Although she considered becoming an actor or a lawyer, she says ‘poetry just gradually became the thing I depended on’.
Bright Travellers is arranged in sequences on miscarriage, childbirth and motherhood, interspersed with stand-alone bridging poems. One sequence, ‘Love-Letter to Vincent’, is inspired by Van Gogh and is written in the voice of his prostitute mistress. Benson says there is ‘a certain amount of slippage between this voice and my more usual lyric I’.
In 2006 Benson won an Eric Gregory Award and a Faber New Poets Award.
Liz Berry (b. 1980 Black Country) says that poetry ‘was really a secret love’ until her mid-twenties. While working as an infant school teacher, she took night classes in poetry before studying in 2008 for an MA at Royal Holloway with Jo Shapcott and Andrew Motion. ‘Everything came alive for me that year,’ Berry says, ‘and I began reading and writing with a fury.’
In 2009, she received an Eric Gregory Award and in 2012, she was selected for the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme and was mentored by Daljit Nagra. He encouraged Berry to use the dialect of her friends and family in her writing.
‘I wanted to tell a story about the place where I grew up,’ Berry says. ‘In many ways, the book (Black Country) is a love letter to the Black Country.’ Berry draws inspiration from the use of dialect by other poets, including Katrina Porteous and Billy Letford.
Kei Miller (b. 1978 Kingston, Jamaica) enrolled in Creative Writing Poetry at the University of the West Indies because the Fiction course he wanted to take was full. ‘I thought of poetry as just an exercise that would make me write better fiction but it took over,’ he says.
As a penniless graduate student at Manchester Metropolitan University, he entered a poetry slam for what he insisted were purely financially reasoned. On winning the £100 prize and becoming Manchester Slam Champion 2004 , he felt ashamed – and ashamed of feeling ashamed. His sense of this contradiction – of being at once a “real” poet who can “bore the socks right off of you” and also a popular performer who can wow crowds – informs all his work.
In his first short story collection, The Fear of Stones and Other Stories, he wrote of homophobia in Jamaica. It was shortlisted in 2007 for the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book prize.
The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, his fourth poetry collection and the winner of the 2014 Forward Prize for Best Collection, was prompted by his realisation that ‘maps pretend to be innocent, but aren’t’. He finds parallels between the rules governing the reckoning of distance, size and location and the rules imposed by poetic form. Quoting the poet Kamau Brathwaite, he observes ‘the hurricane does not roar in pentameters’.
He has a PhD in Caribbean Literature from the University of Glasgow and now teachers creative writing at Royal Holloway college, University of London.
His advice to would-be poets: ‘Allow your work to be shaped by voices that aren’t poetic voices, people who have never thought of themselves as poets.’
Louise Glück (b. 1943 New York City), has written poetry for as long as she can remember. She was US Poet Laureate from 2003-4 and has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the William Carlos Williams Award. As a child with ‘a premature sense of vocation’, she was inspired by Blake’s Songs of Innocence and songs from Shakespeare’s plays. As a teenager, she sent off manuscripts to publishers. ‘It was good practice,’ she says, ‘that decade of rejection.’
Faithful and Virtuous Night took five years to write: when stuck, she would turn to the very short stories of Kafka for inspiration. She finds DH Lawrence’s ‘great, imperfect poems’ encouraging and draws from the work of younger poets and her own students.
Her advice to would-be poets: ‘Persist. Stay, or become, capable of change. Trust what seems an adventure however confusing.’
John Burnside (b. 1955 Dunfermline) describes his Catholic childhood in Corby as solitary: ‘Reading poetry was probably the only real education I had in anything.’ Poetry, he says, is ‘a defence of care over the language, its richness, its subtleties, its possibilities’. He believes that ‘if we keep reading poetry, and so educating ourselves in metaphor, we can see through and scoff at the deceptive myths peddled by certain politicians and salespeople.’
He became a writer while working as a software engineer. His novels, memoirs and poems have won many awards and his 2011 collection Black Cat Bone won both the Forward Prize and the T S Eliot Prize.
All One Breath, his thirteenth poetry collection, was inspired by Ecclesiastes: ‘For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts… yea, they have all one breath.’ Our kinship with all living things is a matter, he maintains, for awe.
His advice to would-be poets: ‘Do it for love. Listen to music. Read the classics, read your contemporaries, get advice from other readers, read in translation. Read, read, read.’