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29th January 2023

Poetic Prizes: The Forward Prizes takes on the North

After relocating to Manchester’s Contract Theatre, the Mancunion attends the prestigious Forward Prizes for a night of awe and bereavement
Poetic Prizes: The Forward Prizes takes on the North
Photo: Jacob Folkard @ The Mancunion

Ted Hughes. Seamus Heaney. Carol Ann Duffy. Caleb Femi. Apart from reading slightly like an A-level poetry syllabus, this is the list of some of the incredible poets commended by the Forward Prizes for Poetry.

The Forward Prizes are the leading awards for new poetry in the UK and Ireland. Established in 1992, for over 30 years it has celebrated upcoming and established poets.

In 2022, for the first time in its 30-year history, the Prizes left London and came up north; specifically to our very own Contact theatre on Oxford road.

Having never previously been to Contact Theatre, I cannot recommend it enough. Walking in, the theatre opens up into a tasteful and well-decorated lounge, strewn with aesthetic lighting and well-dressed members of the literati.

Moving up into the theatre, the demographic of the other members was refreshingly mixed. For a literary form that is often earmarked as a dying genre confined to an older generation, the mix of ages was nice to see. Plus, Simon Armitage was in the audience!

The theatre and prizes were introduced by Keisha Thompson, the new Artistic Director and CEO of Contact Theatre, who, as well as introducing the prizes, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Contact and set out plans for the future. Definitely worth checking out if you’re at all interested in theatre, the arts or even cocktails!

The first prize that was announced was the winner of the best single poem. The variety was incredible and every single poem was read incredibly well by their poet. A particular standout was Louisa Campbell’s ‘Dog on a British Airways Airbus 319-100’.

Coming on stage wearing a massive dog head (not a usual sight at a poetry competition), Louisa got the two first rows of the audience to read her poem (it makes sense when you read the poem) to great effect.

However, the winner in the end was Nick Laird (a Northern Irish novelist, screenwriter and critic) for his poem ‘Up Late‘. Fun fact – he is also married to the incredible novelist Zadie Smith!

‘Up late’ is a thought-provoking and beautiful elegy to Laird’s father who died of COVID in March 2021. Bounding between eloquent lyricism and hard-hitting confrontational phrases, the poem explores the nature of death when it is stuck between the public and private realms.

Delivered with emotion and gravitas, the poem turned back the clock to a COVID world where death was both too private, and also incredibly public. However, the entire poem, at its base, is a poem to explore Laird’s grief and it does that perfectly.

The next prize was the Felix Dennis prize for best first collection. This prize again displayed some of the incredible variety and talent blossoming in modern and upcoming poetry. From Holly Hopkins’ The English Summer to Mohammed El-Kurd’s Rifqa, whose poem ‘Boy Sells Gum at Qalandiyah’ was a particularly hard-hitting reading, the variety was astounding.

However, the winner was Stephanie Sy-Quia’s Amonion. Highlighting colonialism, class, and migration, the poem approaches topics pertinent to both the modern world and the world throughout history. Sy-Quia explores the actions people can take across the world, exploring the world through its geography and people.

The final prize, referred to as the ‘big one’, was the best collection. As with all the other prizes, the standard was astronomically high. This prize which included some slightly more experienced poets displayed poets at the top of their game.

Despite the stiff competition, the winner was Kim Moore’s All the Men I Never Married.  

A winner of previous poetry prizes including the Eric Gregory award and Geoffrey Faber memorial award, Kim is already an established poet of the highest order. Also, aptly for the prize’s Manchester relocation, she completed her doctorate in Poetry and Everyday Sexism at Manchester Metropolitan!

Her poem explores a similar idea to her doctorate; the everyday sexism that women face. She takes an autobiographical approach, chronicling her interactions with men from childhood onwards.

Her reading was as illuminating as it was disconcerting. Moore’s exploration of sexism rips the cover off of everyday actions, revealing the hidden layers of meaning behind what is still often considered normal masculine behaviour.

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