Vahni Capildeo (pictured above) has won the 25th Forward Prize for Best Collection, bagging £15,000 award for her work Measure of Expatriation (Carcanet).
The other winners in a series of "inspiring" prize-winners announced this evening (20th September) at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre, were: for the £5,000 accolade of Best First Collection, Tiphanie Yanique for Wife (Peepal Tree Press), and, for the £1,000 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, Sasha Dugdale for "Joy" (PN Review).
The three awards celebrate the best new poetry published in the British Isles, with previous winners including well-known contemporary poets such as Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and Kathleen Jamie.
Measures of Expatriation is Capildeo’s fourth collection, praised by the judges as "a work that amazes", which is full of transformative poetry. Born in Trinidad, Capildeo has lived in the UK since 1991, winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, where she studied Old Norse before working as an etymologist for the Oxford English Dictionary. She speaks numerous languages, including Spanish, French, English. She writes in her winning book: “Language is my home, I say: not one particular language.”
The ceremony, introduced by the prizes’ founder William Sieghart and the chair of this year’s judging panel, the writer and multidisciplinary artist Malika Booker, was complete with readings from each of the shortlisted collections.
Booker, chair of the five-strong jury - also comprising poets George Szirtes and Liz Berry, with singer/songwriter Tracey Thorn and Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine - said: “Vahni Capildeo’s Measure of Expatriation is a work that amazes. We found a vertiginous excitement in the way in which the book grasps its subject: the sense of never quite being at home. This is poetry that transforms. When people in the future seek to know what it’s like to live between places, traditions, habits and cultures, they will read this. Here is the language for what expatriation feels like.”
Yanique, novelist, short-story writer and professor in the MFA program at the New School in New York City winner of the Best First Collection, was further praised by Booker for her first collection that she called "a generous and witty book, an agile exploration of the many relationships within marriage".
"She has written a delightful exploration of the tensions and complexity of matrimony, in language that’s deceptively simple,” said Booker.
Dugdale's poetic drama "Joy", was referred to as "addictive writing, compelling and tender". Booker said: "It presents the death of Wiliam Blake, as retold by Catherine, his widow. As she re-tells and re-experiences his death, she re-experiences their life together, her sense of herself and her own creative potential.”
The winners of the Forward Prizes 2016: (from left) Sasha Dugdale, Tiphanie Yanique and Vahni Capildeo. Picture: Adrian Pope
Sieghart concluded all three winners were "inspiring".
“The Forward Prizes winners in this, our 25th year, are all writers who push at the limits of language and re-define the possibilities of poetry, " he said. "I welcome the judges’ decisions to celebrate work that excites them, that delights in finding new ways to express what it is to speak and listen in an age of global English. Across the world, the language of the media and of politics has shown itself to be depleted: unexamined slogans and clichés dominate public discourse. Against this background, the attention that Vahni Capildeo, Tiphanie Yanique and Sasha Dugdale give to the moral and musical weight of every word they use is inspiring. They will be new voices to many readers, they represent change, courage and purpose. We are proud of them.”
Forward Arts Foundation’s 25th anniversary was further marked with the launch of the first ever Forward Prizes Studentship which has been given to support a young 18-year-old poet from Afghanistan Shukria Rezaei. Despite not knowing any English on arriving to the UK from Afghanistan four years ago, she has since won several awards for her poetry. The Studentship will enable Shukria to stay on an extra year at Oxford Spires Academy, where she will work as a teaching assistant, mentor younger students and encourage the creative and critical reading and writing of poetry throughout the school.
The ceremony marks the start of a season of nationwide poetry celebrations, culminating with National Poetry Day on Thursday 6th October, with a theme of Messages for 2016.
Shortlisted poets are included in the recently released Forward Book of Poetry 2017, which also contains more than 50 poems highly recommended by the judges.
Another title, 100 Prized Poems: Twenty-five years of the Forward Books, has been released to mark the prizes’ anniversary year, featuring "canonical" names, Carol Ann Duffy, Don Paterson, Derek Walcott, and fresh voices Kate Tempest, Kei Miller and Emily Berry.