The shortlist for the 2018 Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000) includes US poet laureate Tracy K Smith and Vahni Capildeo, who won the same prize in 2016.
Smith is shortlisted for Wade in the Water (Penguin), said to explore what it means to be a citizen, a mother and an artist in a culture arbitrated by wealth, men and violence. Capildeo, whose Measures of Expatriation won the award two years ago, gets this shortlisting for Venus as a Bear (Carcanet), which gives voice to the inanimate and non-human, from sheep to seeds to painted birds and Roman relics.
The two are joined on the shortlist by Toby Martinez de las Rivas, whose Black Sun (Faber) is said to display a fascination with history and theology, earning him comparisons to William Blake; J O Morgan, whose Assurances (Cape) explores a world in a state of nuclear alert; and US writer Danez Smith (right), whose Don’t Call Us Dead (Chatto) is said to use “a radical orator’s eloquence to tug at the labels linked unthinkingly to gender and race.”
Meanwhile on the shortlist for the 2018 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection, worth £5,000, are: Tehran-born poet Kaveh Akbar with Calling for a Wolf (Penguin), exploring alcoholism, desire and faith; Phoebe Power with Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet), which draws on the life story of her Austrian grandmother; Abigail Parry with Jinx (Bloodaxe), said to show the influences of her previous career as a toymaker; Trinidad writer Shianee Ramlochan with Everyone Knows I am a Haunting (Peepal Tree), which gives voice to survivors of sexual assault; and Richard Scott, a former opera singer, with Soho (Faber), exploring themes of “submergence, flesh, the vulnerability of queer bodies.”
The prize for the Best Single Poem (worth £1,000) will be contested by Fiona Benson for "Ruins" (Wild Court), Liz Berry for "The Republic of Motherhood" (Granta), Sumita Chakraborty for "And Death Demands a Labor" (PN Review), Jorie Graham for “Tree” (LRB) and Will Harris for “SAY” (The Poetry Review).
Chair of the judges Bidisha said of the shortlists: “In reading for this year’s Forward Prizes, the other judges and I discovered an art form that is in roaring health. We read countless collections full of wonder and possibility, light but not trivial, serious but not depressing, lushly emotional but not sentimental, frequently witty and capable of great craft and zingy modernity. Our shortlists represent the stunning variety and breadth of poetry today, with contemporary international voices that are urgent, engaged and inspirational.”
Also judging the prizes this year are poets Mimi Khalvati, Niall Campbell and Jen Campbell, and director of the National Poetry Library Chris McCabe.
The awards will be presented at an event at the Southbank Centre on 18th September, ahead of the following week’s National Poetry Day (27th).