Sinéad Morrissey, Ocean Vuong and Ian Patterson are the winners of the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2017, celebrating the best new poetry published in the British Isles.
The prizes were awarded at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday evening (21st September), with Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate, Morrissey, taking home the £10,000 prize for Best Collection for On Balance (Carcanet).
Chair of the judges Andrew Marr said Morrissey's poems were "beautifully written, emotionally charged and filled with a wonderful complexity", impressing the judges for the collection's "openness" and "exuberance".
On Balance, her sixth collection, spans a variety of subjects, including the launching of the Titanic, a 9th century Arabic manual of crankshafts and valves, the Beatles, the Moscow State Circus and Napoleon’s horse.
"This is writing that successfully comes right up to the edge, again and again. We were taken by the openness, the capacity and the exuberance of this work. On Balance is a collection that readers will keep and go back to for a long time to come,” said Marr.
Vuong, who arrived in the US as a two-year-old refugee from Vietnam, won the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection for Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Cape Poetry), praised for its “precise, stark” imagery.
According to the judges, it can be read both as a personal story – of gay sexuality, absent fathers and hyphenated identities – and as a "highly erudite exploration of poetry’s possibilities". Marr called Vuong "a truly remarkable new voice" and his collection both "daring" and "incredibly accomplished".
The £1,000 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem went to Patterson for "The Plenty of Nothing" (first published in PN Review), an elegy to his late wife, the writer Jenny Diski.
Marr hailed it "the kind of poetry that will inspire other poets to take greater risks". Patterson has taught English for almost 20 years at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and his academic books include Guernica and Total War (Profile, 2007) and he has published numerous works of poetry.
During the award ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre were readings from each of the shortlisted collections, introduced by the prizes’ founder William Sieghart and hosted by judge chairman Marr with the poet Mona Arshi, a fellow judge. The judging panel also comprised the poet Ian Duhig, poet and academic Sandeep Parmar and former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.
All shortlisted poets are included in the recently released Forward Book of Poetry 2018, which also contains more than 50 poems highly commended by the judges.