Three Irish poets dominate Forward Prize shortlist

Michael Longley, Tara Bergin and ​​​​​​​Sinéad Morrissey in contention for £10,000 prize. Cork-based The Well Review also honoured.

Michael Longley:  wrote his first poem more than 60 years ago, at the age of 16, “in order to impress a girlfriend”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Michael Longley: wrote his first poem more than 60 years ago, at the age of 16, “in order to impress a girlfriend”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The shortlists for Britain’s most coveted poetry awards, the Forward Prizes for Poetry, have been announced by jury chair Andrew Marr, and three Irish poets – Michael Longley, Tara Bergin and Sinead Morrissey – dominate the Best Collection shortlist. 

The Well Review, a new Cork-based poetry journal, has also been recognised as it published Nightfall, Jane Ash Centre, St Thomas  by Ishion Hutchinson, which has been shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.

Longley’s collection Angel Hill explores the landscapes of Ireland and Scotland through love poems, elegies and reflections on the Troubles. Bergin’s The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx draws on folksong, fairytale and theatrical monologue. Morrissey’s On Balance references fabled feats of engineering – the Titanic, Marconi’s radio – to explore states of balance and imbalance. The shortlist is completed by Nuar Alsadir’s Fourth Person Singular, a New York psychoanalyst’s take on identity, and Emily Berry’s Stranger, Baby, an articulation of childhood bereavement;

Marr said: “Reading so many collections of poems over a relatively short period gives one an intense and useful overview of the condition of poetry in English now. Though an enthusiastic reader of poetry all my life, I had had no idea of the variety of the delights and provocations lying all around me. I came away more than ever convinced than ever that if you read journalism alone, or history alone, and yet you omit contemporary poetry, then you cannot properly understand the world you live in.”

Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation which runs the Forward Prizes for Poetry, says: “This is a bold shortlist, full of new names, which take the wider world for their inspiration rather than sticking to territory marked safe for poetry. These are poems that demand and reward close attention from all the senses.”

The 2017 judging panel also features poets Ian Duhig and Mona Arshi, former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell and writer and academic Sandeep Parmar. The jury read 186 new collections and 212 single poems.

Previous winners of the Forward Prizes, sponsored since their launch in 1992 by the content marketing agency, Bookmark, include Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Kathleen Jamie. The awards will be presented at the Royal Festival Hall in London on September 21st, featuring readings from all the shortlisted books.

THE 2017 FORWARD PRIZES FOR POETRY SHORTLISTS

The 2017 Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)

Nuar Alsadir – Fourth Person Singular (Liverpool University Press)
Tara Bergin – The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx (Carcanet)
Emily Berry – Stranger, Baby (Faber & Faber)
Michael Longley – Angel Hill (Cape Poetry)
Sinead Morrissey – On Balance (Carcanet)

The 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)

Maria Apichella – Psalmody (Eyewear Publishing)
Richard Georges – Make Us All Islands (Shearsman Books)
Eric Langley – Raking Light (Carcanet)
Nick Makoha – Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree Press)
Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Cape Poetry)

The 2017 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)

Malika Booker – Nine Nights (Poetry Review)
Mary Jean Chan - // (Ambit)
Harmony Holiday – The City Admits no Wrongdoing (Prac Crit)
Ishion Hutchinson – Nightfall, Jane Ash Centre, St. Thomas (The Well Review)
Ian Patterson – The Plenty of Nothing (PN Review)

2017 Forward Prize for Best Collection - shortlist biographies

Nuar Alsadir – Fourth Person Singular (Liverpool University Press)
Nuar Alsadir (b. New Haven, Connecticut) works as a psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and academic in New York. ‘The mind doesn’t see images, hear, smell, perceive in tidy succession,’ she says. ‘That cacophonous chaos, which visual arts often capture so vividly, is exciting to me.’

Alsadir, born of Iraqi parents, responded strongly to the coverage of the Iraqi war. ‘I began to realize the extent to which the chaos of the external world – and my internal world – demanded accurate expression. More than ever, the ready-made forms did not feel relevant to me or able to truthfully hold what the world – or I – had become.’ Fourth Person Singular is a deeply politically engaged book, which dares readers into new ways of ordering their thoughts and the information around them.

Tara Bergin – The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx (Carcanet)
Tara Bergin (b. 1974, Dublin) writes that ‘traditional songs … appeal to me a great deal and they have influenced much of my writing’.

In this, her second collection, Bergin plays with various narratives, most notably those recounting the deaths of Eleanor Marx (daughter of Karl) and of Flaubert’s Emma Bovary. These poems are intellectually complex – a deep commentary on the politics of gender and family - while remaining songlike and, as she writes, ‘enjoyable to listen to’.

In 2012 Bergin completed a PhD on Ted Hughes’s translations of János Pilinszky, and now lives in Yorkshire. She is interested in ‘changes that happen to English when it is spoken by non-English voices’ and in the relationship between her native Ireland and other countries.

Emily Berry – Stranger, Baby (Faber & Faber)
Emily Berry (b. 1981, London), editor of The Poetry Review, is shortlisted for her second book, Stranger, Baby. It addresses, she says ‘the long shadow cast by the loss of a mother in childhood – my own loss’.

Her first book, Dear Boy, won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2013. That book focused on eerie, elliptical narratives and askance, lively interactions with the discourse around mental health, gender, domestic (dis)harmony and psychoanalysis.

Stranger, Baby drives those strategies into a more personally intimate space. ‘There are’, she says, ‘a lot of other people’s words in the book alongside my own. So it’s lonely but it’s also companionable.’

Michael Longley – Angel Hill (Cape Poetry)
Michael Longley (b. 1939, Belfast) wrote his first poem more than 60 years ago, at the age of 16, ‘in order to impress a girlfriend’. His poetry has continued to impress widely: his honours include the Whitbread Poetry Award, the Hawthornden Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and, most recently, the PEN Pinter Prize. His friend, the late Seamus Heaney, described him as ‘a custodian of griefs and wonders’.

Longley, who cites Edward Thomas and W B Yeats as touchstones, demonstrates in Angel Hill a luminous and engaged sparseness of style. He says: ‘My work has become simpler as I have grown older … writing a poem is a journey into the unknown. Poetry is a mystery’. Invested in nature and morality, Angel Hill finds beautiful ground for that mystery.

Sinéad Morrissey – On Balance (Carcanet)
Sinéad Morrissey (b. 1972, Portadown, Co Armagh) was Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate until 2016, and is now Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. She has published five collections, including the 2013 TS Eliot Prize–winning Parallax.

Morrissey describes On Balance as her ‘most cohesive book’ to date. ‘Just as it says on the tin, the book interrogates ideas of balance – physical balance, structural balance, gender balance, ecological balance, life-death balance – and it does so using the high-wire act of poetic form as a conduit for that exploration.’

Combining a subtlety of touch with a powerful turn of phrase – one character finds in all things ‘the über-florid signature of God’ – Morrissey here holds narrative and lyric in delicate relation.

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