Two collections from publisher Bloodaxe Books are in the running for the £10,000 Best Collection award at the Forward Prizes for Poetry.
Tishani Doshi’s A God at the Door, which explores the role of beauty in overcoming trauma and granting power to the powerless, and Men Who Feed Pigeons by Selima Hill, which examines seven relationships between men and women, are both shortlisted from the independent poetry press.
Also shortlisted for the Best Collection award is Kayo Chingonyi’s second book, A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus), which charts a personal journey from the bank of the Zambezi river to London and Leeds, Notes on the Sonnets (Penned in the Margins), which sees Luke Kennard reimagining Shakespeare’s Sonnets through a depressing house party, and Cheryl’s Destinies by Stephen Sexton (Penguin), which explores the comfort of the fantastical and enchanted when reality is hard to bear.
The shortlist for the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection features Caleb Femi’s Poor (Penguin), described by the judges as “both a tough and vulnerable portrait of the estate he grew up on and the people who live there”. Also on the list are Alice Hiller’s bird of winter (Pavilion Poetry), described as “a powerful, healing act of creative witness to childhood sexual abuse and grooming” and Cynthia Miller’s Honorifics (Nine Arches Press), which is about mothers, migration and her mixed Chinese-Malaysian heritage.
Also listed is Holly Pester’s collection of resistance, Comic Timing (Granta Poetry), which explores sex, rent, worker’s rights, feminism and reproductive rights, and Ralph Webb’s Rotten Days in Late Summer (Penguin) which weaves together the loss of the poet’s father and his mental health struggles with textures of youth and adulthood in the working communities of the West Country.
Elsewhere, shortlisted for the £1,000 Best Single Poem award are Fiona Benson for "Androgeus", Natalie Linh Bolderstone for "Middle Name with Diacritics", John McCullough for "Flower of Sulphur", Denise Riley for "1948" and Nicole Sealey for "Pages 22-29, an Excerpt from The Ferguson Report: An Erasure".
The 2021 judging panel is chaired by broadcaster, journalist and writer James Naughtie. He is joined by poets Leontia Flynn, Pascale Petit, and Shivanee Ramlochan and by poetry critic Tristram Fane Saunders.
Naughtie said: 'We know that the year — and more — of the pandemic was also the year of reading. And that means poetry as well as prose. It was a time when everyone was reminded how much we need to be exposed to the power of the imagination. And the short lists for the Forward Prizes 2021 are a reminder that the poetic imagination isn't wholly introspective, although it cuts deep. It's bold, limitless in ambition and it touches every part of our lives — our own hopes and fears, our communities, and the wider world that so often seems bewildering and over-powering. These poets find pathways into the deepest feelings and discover vantage points that take a reader (or a listener) to another place. In their hands we look at the world differently. This is a moment for poetry; and all these poets deliver. Read them, and take off.”
The judges’ selection of shortlisted and highly commended poems will be published on 16th September 2021 in the annual Forward Book of Poetry (Faber & Faber).
Mónica Parle, executive director of the Forward Arts Foundation, the charity which runs the Forward Prizes, said: “Poetry has long been a source of solace in times of crisis and grief, or a boon in times of celebration. It was no surprise to see interest and engagement soar on social media across the pandemic, and what joy to see the prizes celebrate such a fantastic range of collections, that highlight such a breadth of lived experience. A perfect slice of the now.”