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Forward Prizes for Poetry 2023 Shortlists Announced

By Conor Hodges and Georgia Appleyard


Renowned for championing new poetic voices and internationally celebrated writers alike, the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2023 shortlists have been announced. The prize is awarded in four categories: Best Collection (with a prize of £10,000), Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000), Best Single Poem - Written (£1,000) and the new category of Best Single Poem - Performed (£1,000). The shortlisted poets will be celebrated with an event at Bradford Literature Festival on Saturday 1 July 2023.


Reflecting the diversity and excellence of contemporary poetry, the shortlists feature poets from Hong Kong to the North of England, and the majority of works come from independent publishers. Bernadine Evaristo, Chair of Judges for the Best Collections panel, said that the judges were drawn to poets who are “moving poetry forwards in theme or form or both," offering “emotional depth” and “imaginative fertility.” This year’s Chair of Judges for the Best Single Poems panel Joelle Taylor said that the shortlisted works “exemplify all that is distinct, innovative, and alive in British poetry.”


Best Collection


Jason Allen-Paisant – Self Portrait as Othello (Carcanet)


Jamaican writer and academic Jason Allen-Paisant portraits himself as Othello in this collection to reflect upon his European travels and the Black male body through the intertwined identities of “Black” and “immigrant.” Allen-Paisant’s first collection, Thinking with Trees, won the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for poetry.


Mary Jean Chan – Bright Fear (Faber)


Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chan is the author of Flèche, winner of the Costa Book Award for poetry, and is also a judge for the 2023 Booker Prize. Bright Fear engages boldly with themes of identity, multilingualism and post-colonialism as well as the rise of anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Jane Clarke – A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe)


Jane Clarke’s A Change in the Air explores how we are shaped by the cultures, people and landscapes around us, and how our past informs our present. Her first collection The River was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and her second collection When the Tree Falls was shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award.


Kit Fan – The Ink Cloud Reader (Carcanet)


Hong Kong-born Kit Fan’s third collection grapples with a sudden illness and the concept of mortality, against the backdrop of a chaotic Hong Kong and a broken world. Fan’s debut collection Paper Scissors Stone won the HKU International Poetry Prize, and As Slow as Possible was an Irish Times Book of the Year. Fan was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2022.


Elisabeth Sennitt Clough – My Name is Abilene (Salt)


Rich in symbolism and mythology, My Name is Abilene is a thrilling collection of twisty fen-Gothic narratives set in Cambridgeshire, filled with macabre imagery. Elisabeth Sennitt Clough is the author of Glass, Sightings, At or Below Sea Level, and the Cold Store. She is also editor of the Fenland Poetry Journal.


The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection


Susannah Dickey – ISDAL (Pan Macmillan)


ISDAL is an interrogation of the true crime genre, its ethical dilemmas, and our obsession with female victims, sexiness and death. Dickey’s work has been featured in Poetry Review, TLS and Poetry London. She is an Eric Gregory Award winner, and the author of two novels.


Rowan Evans – A Method, A Path (Bloomsbury)


A meditation on Old English, A Method, A Path explores the turbulent transmission of historical and mythic voices that “reach across” time and place. A poet, composer and sound artist based in Bristol, Evans received the Eric Gregory Award and the Michael Marks Award for Poetry in 2019 for his chapbook The Last Verses of Beccán.


Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa – Cane, Corn & Gully (Out-Spoken Press)


Uniting dance and poetry, Cane, Corn & Gully invites readers to consider Black West Indian femininity and how it is passed down between generations. Kinshasa is a British-born Barbadian poet, dancer and choreographer. She won the 2020 Culture Recordings New Voice in Poetry Prize. Cane, Corn & Gully was also shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize in 2023.


Momtaza Mehri – Bad Diaspora Poems (Jonathan Cape)


Bad Diaspora Poems revolves around the central question of what it means to write diaspora poetry with specific reference to migration to and from Somalia over the last two centuries. Merhi is a former Young People’s Poet Laureate for London and the winner of the Manchester Writing Prize.


Kandace Siobhan Walker – Cowboy (Cheerio Publishing)


Cowboy presents a kaleidoscope of experiences: of embodied and disembodied spiritualities; of familial mythologies; of grief and longing; of autism and navigating diagnoses; of enduring disappointment; of the wildness underneath the surface of life. Kandace Siobhan Walker won the 2021 Eric Gregory Award and the White Review Poet’s Prize. Cowboy is her first book.


Best Single Poem - Written


Kathryn Bevis – ‘My body tells me that she’s filing for divorce’ (Second Light Poetry Competition


Kathryn Bevis’s poems have appeared in Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, Poetry Ireland Review, Magma, The London Magazine and Mslexia. She has won the Wales Poetry Award and the Second Light Poetry Competition.


Malika Booker - ‘Libation’ (Poetry Review)


Malika Booker is a British poet of Guyanese and Grenadian heritage. She teaches Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and hosts Peepal Tree Press’s Literary podcast. Booker was awarded the Cholmondeley Award in 2019 and the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2020.


Kizziah Burton – ‘Oh do you know the Flower Man’ (Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition)


Kizziah Burton is from Jackson, Mississippi and has an MA in Creative Writing. She was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2022 and the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award in 2023. Burton has also been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition six times.


Breda Spaight – ‘The Curse’ (Southward)


Hailing from Limerick, Spaight has an M.Phil. in Creative Writing. She has won the Doolin Poetry Prize, and her work has appeared in journals such as Southword, Poetry Ireland Review and New Irish Writing.


Eric Yip – ‘Fricatives’ (National Poetry Competition)


Eric Yip was born and raised in Hong Kong. His poems appear in The Poetry Review, Magma, The Adroit Journal, bath magg, and Best New Poets. He was the winner of the 2021 National Poetry Competition. In 2023 he is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge and is working on his first pamphlet.


Best Single Poem - Performed


Zena Edwards – ‘Human. This Embodied Knowledge’


Zena Edwards was born in Hackney and is a professional writer and poet performer. As an advocate of climate and environmental awareness, her writing and performance pedagogy is rooted in identifying the connection to the body, the imagination and Earth.


Michael Pedersen – ‘The Cat Prince’


Pedersen is a prize-winning Scottish poet and author and co-founder of the literary collective Neu! Reekie!. His prose debut, Boy Friends, was well-received by critics and was a Sunday Times Critics Choice in 2022.


Bohdan Piasecki – ‘Almost Certainly’


Born in Warsaw, Piasecki is the founder of the first poetry slam series in Poland, and retains a particular interest in orality, multilingualism, and storytelling. An experienced educator and facilitator, Piaescki is Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham


Roger Robinson – ‘The City Kids See the Sea’


Roger Robinson’s poetry has been featured in a number of prominent anthologies, including The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain. He was chosen by Decibel as one of fifty writers who have influenced the Black-British writing canon, and is the winner of the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize and the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2020.


Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe – ‘And our eyes are on Europe’


Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe is a poet, pacifist and fabulist. Her debut collection Auguries of a Minor God was published in 2021 and was a finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize, John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize and the Butler Literary Award, as well as a Book of the Year for Irish Times and Irish Independent.


The 2023 winners will be announced at a ceremony at Leeds Playhouse on 16 October as part of Leeds 23. Stay in touch with the Forward Prizes For Poetry and the Forward Arts Foundation here.

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