Caroline Bird has won the £10,000 Forward Prize for Best Collection with her “audacious” The Air Year (Carcanet).
Bird was announced as the winner of the main prize at a virtual ceremony hosted by the British Library today (25th October). Will Harris picked up the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection with Rendang (Granta), while Malika Booker's “The Little Miracles” was named Best Single Poem.
The Air Year is named for the hurricane of a new relationship, the time before the first (or "paper") anniversary.
Bird explained: “The Air Year was written during a time of complete uncertainty in my life, when I felt I was mid-air between rooftops with nothing beneath me, trying to knit a future for myself out of the air in the same way that I knit a poem out of the blankness of the page. The speakers of the poems are often falling from planes, cliff-tops, windows, or evaporating and dissolving—the things they want most in the world seem unattainable; their shame is just as loud as their love.”
Chair of the 2020 jury, writer, critic and cultural historian Alexandra Harris, said of it: "These poems are trapeze ropes made with words, swinging us up and out into the unknown, from dazzle into darkness and back again. With hurtling fluency and ethereal weightlessness, they give chase to mysteries of love and hurt. Turning, tumbling, vaulting, The Air Year performs a surrealist aerial dance. Every time you look, its shape has shifted, its extravagance, puzzlement and passion are startlingly reconfigured.”
Will Harris’s debut Rendang tackles his mixed-race heritage, considering family, borders, transience and the need for “a voice capacious enough to be both me and not-me”. Judges praised it for the “marvellous generosity” in which its ideas “meet, leap and circle each other”.
Booker’s “The Little Miracles” is a tender account of caring for her mother in the aftermath of a stroke, written as part of a project organised by the poetry magazine Magma.
Harris said: “'The Little Miracles’ is a poem about love and patience: you can feel time moving in its rhythm of work and relief. Every word is freighted with the effort and desire to communicate. The poem breathes with warmth, frustration and humour.”
All shortlisted poets are included in the Forward Book of Poetry 2021, which also contains more than 50 poems highly commended by the judges.
The Forward Prize for Poetry was founded by William Sieghart and is run by the charity Forward Arts Foundation. Previous winners include Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Claudia Rankine.