Danez Smith was tonight (18th September) announced as the winner of the Forward poetry prize for best collection, with awards also going to Phoebe Power and Liz Berry.
Smith was given the £10,000 prize for Don’t Call Us Dead (Chatto Poetry), described by the judges as a collection of jubilant, confrontational lyrical poems that draw on the poet’s experience of being black, gender-neutral and HIV positive in the American midwest.
Smith, who at 29 is the Best Collection Prize’s youngest ever winner and the first to use the pronoun ‘they’, said: “I hope someone out there will see my work – my black, queer loud-mouth work on this platform – and recognize the worthiness in themselves.”
The critic and broadcaster Bidisha, who chaired this year’s judging panel, said: “The tight lyrical poems in Don’t Call Us Dead feel utterly contemporary, and exciting. Showing an astonishing formal and emotional range and a mastery of metrical, musical language, Smith’s finely crafted poetry makes us look anew at the intertwined natures of politics and sexuality and stands as a powerful warning: this is what’s happening, be alert, pay attention.”
Phoebe Power won the £1,000 Felix Dennis Award for best first collection for Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet), an exploration of the poet’s grandmother’s homeland that takes in childhood, climate change and the effects of the Second World War.
“Surprising, observed with a sharp eye for detail and a quick sense of humour, Shrines of Upper Austria unsettles and delights: Power’s utterly contemporary voice is one you want to hear more from,” said Bidisha.
The final prize for best single poem was give to ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ by Liz Berry (Granta)
The Forward Prizes for Poetry are run by the Forward Arts Foundation and celebrate the best new poetry published in the British Isles. They are sponsored by Bookmark Content, the content and communications company.