Forward Prizes 2015


The Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000) 

Claudia RankineCitizen: An American Lyric (Penguin Books)

The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)

Mona Arshi, Small Hands, (Liverpool University Press)

 The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000) 

Claire Harman, “The Mighty Hudson” (TLS)

The winner of the 2015 Forward Prize for the Best Poetry Collection is Jamaica-born Claudia Rankine for Citizen: An American Lyric, described by the jury as a “powerful book for our time”. AL Kennedy, chair of the five-strong jury, said: “This is writing we can recommend with real urgency and joy. It’s a stylistically daring poetic project about the dehumanization of those deemed outsiders – we found it exhilarating and genuinely transformative.” The press release is here.

Citizen is a brave book, with many dimensions: it takes risks, gives courage and provokes profound self-questioning. We read it as a celebration of the power of language, not simply as a call to arms but a call to speak out and to share. Several of us have, individually, pressed this book on others with real fervour. It will, we know, raise questions about the nature, purpose and importance of poetry.

Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin Books) is published as poetry and has also been described as a “lyric essay”, a creative non-fiction genre combining the essay form with poetic technique, using juxtaposition instead of argument or narrative. The book features extracts from documentary film scripts, an essay on Venus Williams, screen grabs of Zinedine Zidane’s 2006 World Cup head-butt, President Obama’s oath of office, JMW Turner’s painting The Slave Ship and witness testimony to acts of everyday racism.


Mona Arshi’s Small Hands (Liverpool University Press) wins the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection. London-born Arshi, who spent ten years as a human-rights lawyer, drew on both her legal experience and her Punjabi Sikh heritage for her debut collection, which the jury praised for its “imagination, sensuality and beguiling playfulness”.

They particularly admired her “beautiful precision and her willingness to experiment with form, including couplets, ghazals, sonnets and prose poetry.” They also remarked on the subtlety with which Arshi left her mark on the reader’s memory, whether writing about the iniquity of using “shop-bought garam masala” or the case of right-to-die campaigner Diane Pretty, whom she represented as a lawyer.


“The Mighty Hudson” by Claire Harman, first published in the TLS, was awarded the Best Single Poem prize. The poem, a biographical sketch of a strongman who over-reaches himself spectacularly, delighted the judges with its “inventiveness and wit”.

The Forward Prizes for Poetry were awarded at a public event with poets reading from the shortlisted collections, introduced by a musical performance by Cerys Matthews. All shortlisted poets are included in the 24th annual Forward Book of Poetry, which also contains 50 poems highly recommended by the judges.



Students at GCSE and A Level stages have been invited to participate in the judging process by writing critiques of selected poems on the shortlists, available on the Forward Arts Foundation website.

@forwardprizes #forwardprizes

The Forward Prizes, now in their 24th year, are among the most prestigious literary awards in the UK and Ireland. They are unique in honouring both established and emerging poets and were founded to celebrate excellence in poetry and widen its audience. These are the shortlists chosen by the 2015 judging panel, after looking at 185 collections and 227 single poems. The winners will be decided on 28 September at the Southbank, but the speculation has started already. Here’s what the Guardian has written. And the LRB Bookshop.

The Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)
Ciaran Carson, From Elsewhere (The Gallery Press)
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, The Boys of Bluehill (The Gallery Press)
Paul Muldoon, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Faber & Faber)
Claudia Rankine, (Penguin Books)
Peter Riley, Due North (Shearsman)

The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)
Mona Arshi, Small Hands (Liverpool University Press, Pavilion Poetry)
Sarah Howe, Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus)
Andrew McMillan, physical (Cape Poetry)
Matthew Siegel, Blood Work (CB editions)
Karen McCarthy Woolf, An Aviary of Small Birds (Carcanet)

The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)
Maura Dooley ‘Cleaning Jim Dine’s Heart’ (The Poetry Review)
Andrew Elliott ‘Doppelgänger’ (Sonofabook)
Ann Gray ‘My Blue Hen’ (The Moth)
Claire Harman ‘The Mighty Hudson’ (Times Literary Supplement)
Kim Moore ‘In That Year’ (Poetry News)

Writer and broadcaster A L Kennedy, chair of the 2015 Forward Prizes jury, says: ‘My fellow judges and I were exhilarated to read experienced writers who were extending their abilities: it’s very clear that a wonderfully vibrant new generation of poets is emerging. It was also particularly heartening to note so many different sources of material, the wide-ranging scope and radical edge of poets working today. Amongst our finest practitioners, poetry is still a medium for the discussion and exploration of anything and everything – just as it should be.’

William Sieghart, chairman of the Forward Arts Foundation, which runs the prizes, says: ‘The diversity and ambition seen on the shortlists bear witness to a transformative moment for poetry publishing in the UK and Ireland.’

The judging panel included BBC producer Emma Harding and the poets Colette Bryce, Carrie Etter and Warsan Shire, the first Young Poet Laureate for London. They read 205 collections and 227 single poems.

The awards are made in three categories for poetry published between October 2014 and September 2015.

The prizes were awarded at Southbank Centre on Monday 28 September. The 24th annual Forward Book of Poetry, containing the judges’ choice of the year’s poems was launched on the same day, with a cover by the artist Georgie Hopton. The Prizes have been generously supported by Bookmark since 1991 (until 2016, Bookmark traded as Forward Worldwide), and by (the late) Felix Dennis since 2004.