As interesting remarks and consequent discussions on Rob Mackenzie’s Surroundings and Katy Evans Bush’s Baroque in Hackney testify to, the shortlists for the Forward Prizes for 2007 are now upon us: Britain’s richest poetry prizes at a total of £16,000 for the three categories.
What’s of real interest, though, is this year’s line-up of judges. Chair is the award-winning Michael Symmons-Roberts, joined by fellow poets Glyn Maxwell and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze. As has been customary for some years now, Colin Greenwood also joins the panel: an accomplished musician in one of the greatest and most influential bands of recent times, Radiohead, but also a crucially committed and avid reader of poetry. The shocker (or at least for me) was to find out that editor of Guardian Unlimited Book, Sarah Crown, completes the Forward panel.
Interesting, as I’d always assumed she was a fiction buff, with little time for poetry. But it turns out that no, she reads at least ‘four or five new collections a month’, and ‘eschewed everything except poetry while preparing to judge the prize’. Fair enough. For those who aren’t fans and regular readers of contemporary poetry for one reason or another, Crown also has some interesting things to say about the experience of judging. The full article’s here, but I found the following paragraph most illuminating:
“I found that, by immersing myself in poetry, I read with far greater incisiveness and clarity. I no longer needed to make the gear shift that is generally required when you pick up a volume of poetry after reading prose; my ear was attuned to poetry's rhythms, and my eye - accustomed to the sight of poetry on the page - became far quicker at detecting themes, echoes and linguistic flourishes (reading the collections back to back also, of course, allowed me to arrive at qualitative judgments with far greater speed and conviction). As the days passed and the pile of "read" volumes grew taller, I also became increasingly aware of what a rare privilege it was to read a year's worth of poetry - I felt as if I was being given an insight into the country's collective conscious. Words resurfaced from collection to collection - caul, clarity, fetch - and themes emerged, of which the most prevalent was water: poets from every part of the British Isles - and beyond - turned again and again to rain, rivers, seas and floods. The subject found its ultimate expression in Sean O'Brien's The Drowned Book, which is a hymn to the wet stuff - a sort of municipal reimagining of Alice Oswald's book-length river poem, Dart.”
It might seem obvious once you think about it, then, but Crown hits on something here that a lot of readers who don’t read poetry could benefit from considering: that if you immerse yourself in poetry, and read it with the regularity you’ve read novels all your life, you become as accustomed to reading and enjoying verse as you do prose. Which can’t be a bad thing: after all, variety’s the spice of life, and contemporary poetry has a lot to offer once you stop dipping your toes in and take the plunge. I learnt that after moving from reading the odd Armitage, Duffy and Paterson poem to reading collections by lesser-known poets, as well as the hot houses and frontiers of poetry publishing, literary magazines.
Anyhow, to the Forward Prize 2007 shortlist. I’m betting Beasts of Nalulnga by Jack Mapanje to win Best Collection, Look We Have Coming to Dover! by Daljit Nagra for Best First Collection, and 'Dunt' by Alice Oswald (Poetry London) for Best Single Poem. Who do I want to win? With so much good poetry, I’m still not sure…
The Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)
Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
Gift Songs by John Burnside (Jonathan Cape)
The Harbour Beyond the Movie by Luke Kennard (Salt Publishing)
Beasts of Nalulnga by Jack Mapanje (Bloodaxe)
Birds with a Broken Wing by Adam Thorpe (Jonathan Cape)
The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5000)
Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dimitri Shostakovich by Joanna Boulter (Arc Publications)
Galatea by Melanie Challenger (Salt Publishing)
Look We Have Coming to Dover! by Daljit Nagra (Faber and Faber)
Andraste's Hair by Eleanor Rees (Salt Publishing)
The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1000)
'The Hut in Question' by David Harsent (Poetry Review)
'Thursday' by Lorraine Mariner (The Rialto)
'Dunt' by Alice Oswald (Poetry London)
'The Day I Knew I Wouldn't Live Forever' by Carole Satyamurti (The Interpreter's House)
'Goulash' by Myra Schneider (The North)
'The Birkdale Nightingale' by Jean Sprackland (Poetry Review)