About Forward/emagazine Creative Critics

+++The Forward Forward/emagazine Creative Critics is an annual competition that invites 16-19 year-olds to write a poem in response to work shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Poetry.

Sample poems from each book shortlisted for a Forward Prize are provided. Young poets are invited to read and think about these poems before choosing one and writing a creative response to it in the form of a poem, along with a short reflective commentary. The 2020 winners were announced on Sunday 25th October at the Forward Prizes for Poetry digital ceremony hosted by the British Library

The competition is run in partnership with the English Media Centre.

Judge - Julia Copus

The competition was judges by Forward Prize alumna Julia Copus.

Julia writes: ‘There was something to discover in each one of these brilliant shortlisted entries. I was deeply impressed not only by the ingenuity and range of the poems but by the erudition of the accompanying commentaries. In the best entries, the commentaries shed light on both the model poems and the newly minted responses. But in the end, a poem must also stand on its own feet. Each of the top three poems does just that, and each has its own distinct note. These are poems in which thought process, imagery and rhythm are sustained right the way to the end; poems which – importantly – end as strongly as they began. I’d like to pass on my congratulations to the authors of the shortlisted and commended poems, but also to everyone who entered. The overall standard was extremely high and the maturity and sophistication of this shortlist suggests that our poetic future is in safe hands.’


Joyce Chen (Westminster School) for ‘Cuttlefishing off the coast of Hong Kong’

Julia Copus writes: ‘In this magical poem (inspired by a single stanza in Will Harris’s ‘Holy Man’), the speaker remembers herself back to a childhood memory of night fishing and depicts, with great clarity and poise, the disconnect she feels from the adult world even as she blends – ‘small and forgotten’ – with her surroundings. The experience is recreated with a cinematic sensibility: ‘The boat washed dimply yellow, the shade / of my bedroom in those years of nightlights and spinning dreams’; elsewhere, a teapot lid on a tablecloth floats ‘belly-up like an apology / or a dead thing’. But the poem’s metaphorical significance is only revealed as it moves towards its close and the colour black provides a link to a present-day Hong Kong suffused with political unrest and – as the illuminating commentary puts it – ‘a sense of the confusion and guilt that often accompanies dual identity’.


Ariba Saeed (London Academy of Excellence) for her untitled poem beginning ‘What the hell, I still play hide and seek’

Julia Copus writes: ‘There is an enormous energy and a powerful imagination at work in Ariba Saeed’s untitled poem written in response to Caroline Bird’s ‘Rookie’. Using a skilful interweaving of well-known nursery rhymes and fairy tales, the poem maintains a strict rhyme scheme throughout its 28 lines while it builds a moving and compelling narrative of victimisation and escape, making clever use of the LGBT+ ‘in the closet’ metaphor.’ – Julia Copus


Katie Kirkpatrick (Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge) for ‘things i am freezing to come back to later’

Julia Copus writes: ‘I love the gentle and sustained note of nostalgia in this poem (based on Vicki Feaver’s ‘The Larder’) about experiences so deeply treasured that the writer is storing them up to return to at a later date. The final line contains the surprising revelation that one of the items they will be ‘freezing’ for later is the poem itself – a decision that appears to be reached just as the final full stop is inked into place.’

Highly Commended

Luke Tinworth (Little Heath School) for ‘Kid’
Iqra Naseem (Lordswood Girls’ School and Sixth Form Centre) for ‘A Second Evening’
Thariny Suresh (Royal Latin School) for ‘pass time’
Yael Katz (Haberdashers’ Aske School for Girls) for ‘Vilnius’


Erin Violett-Camp (Newton Abbot College) for ‘Child’
Nia Mercurius-Johnson (Royal Masonic School for Girls) for ‘You Are Mistaken’
Ibrahim Usmani (Repton School Dubai) for ‘Pakistani Praises’
Maria Ma (Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate) for ‘Hawker Centre’
Hala Almodares (Lycee Internationale Jeanne d’Arc) for ‘Close’