Kennard, Femi and Sealey win Forward Prizes for Poetry

Kennard, Femi and Sealey win Forward Prizes for Poetry

Luke Kennard, Caleb Femi and Nicole Sealey have won the Forward Prizes for Poetry.

Kennard (pictured top) scooped the top £10,000 for Best Collection with Notes on the Sonnets (Penned in the Margins), it was announced on 24th October.

His book is an "anarchic collection" of responses to Shakespeare’s sonnets, presenting them to a contemporary audience as a series of prose poems set in the same awkward house party. Judge Shivanee Ramlochan said: "This collection is an extraordinary thing. It is an invitation to link contemporaneity with the very rigid way many students are forced to study Shakespeare. This book could transform that relationship in a profound, funny and moving way."

Kennard said: "I wrote the opening piece ‘Sonnet 66’ at a party. Then I got hooked on writing reactions to all 154, generally just reading the original a few times and getting some thoughts down. Then it turned into this strange, dreamlike narrative set at the same house party. I’ve written plenty of prose poems before but this was the most sustained sequence. I got shortlisted for my second collection in 2007, so it feels kind of extraordinary to be here again 14 years later, as a… former child star. It means a lot. You try to balance your ego against a sense of community. It’s still really lovely when something you’ve written makes an impact on someone else."

Femi (pictured, right) was awarded the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection for Poor (Penguin Poetry) while Sealey won the £1,000 prize for Best Single Poem for "Pages 22-29, an excerpt from The Ferguson Report: An Erasure" from Poetry London. The ceremony took place at the Southbank Centre and saw readings from all the shortlisted works. 

Femi’s Poor explores life on a Peckham estate, studded with photographs taken by the poet. Fellow judge Tristram Fane Saunders said the collection was "extraordinarily powerful and lyrical" adding that "Femi demonstrates a wonderful control of the sound of the line. You can open the collection on any page and read a selection aloud and you will get a “wow” response from anyone."

Sealey (pictured, below left), who flew in from the United States to join the ceremony, based her work on the obfuscations of the report into the murder of Michael Brown by members of the Ferguson police force. Leontia Flynn said: "With this poem you have a gradual dawning of what is being said and it does exactly what a poem should do in a very, very moving way" while fellow judge Ramlochan said it was "a poem of resonant cultural and social value".

Chair of the 2021 jury, broadcaster, journalist and writer James Naughtie said of the winners: "We know that the year — and more — of the pandemic was also the year of reading. It was a time when everyone was reminded how much we need to be exposed to the power of the imagination. And the shortlists 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 read 231 poetry collections and 202 nominated single poems for this year's awards. Poems from the shortlisted and highly commended books are published in The Forward Book of Poetry 2022.