British poets have won all of this year’s Forward prizes for poetry, with Caroline Bird’s “audacious and erotically charged” The Air Year taking the best collection, Will Harris’s RENDANG winning best debut, and Malika Booker winning for best single poem.
Caroline Bird’s sixth collection The Air Year, named for the first 12 months of a relationship before the “paper” anniversary, was announced as the winner of the £10,000 prize in an online ceremony on Sunday afternoon. A playwright, and published poet since the age of 15, Bird saw off competition from the acclaimed Native American-Latinx Natalie Diaz and the award-winning Pascale Petit.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, it is very weird,” Bird said while speaking of her win. “Obviously, it feels amazing. But it is also unsettling, as I write poetry imagining no one will ever read it. I read it now and I find it quite upsetting, even though some of the poems are funny and lively. You wouldn’t want to watch a video of yourself in distress, and it feels like that. But I guess that is a good sign in some ways, that I don’t want to ever read it again.”
One of the most acclaimed debuts in recent years, Will Harris won the £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection with RENDANG, which explores his Chinese-Indonesian and British heritage, family ties, language, and borders. RENDANG was praised by judges as containing “acute intelligence and mobile grace”.
Previous nominee Booker, co-founder of the influencial collective Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, won the £1,000 prize for best single poem with The Little Miracles, documenting her experience of caring for her mother in the aftermath of a stroke: “Since I found mother collapsed on the kitchen/floor, we siblings have become blindfolded mules / harnessed to carts filled with strain, lumbering / through a relentless storm.”
The three poets were selected from 205 collections and 208 single poems submitted. “What we were looking for in the end were collections that could keep growing as the world changed,” said Alexandra Harris. “The best poetry we were reading found ways to connect the unknowable with the ordinary.” Past winners of the Forward prizes include three of the UK’s poet laureates – Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, and Ted Hughes – as well as Seamus Heaney and Claudia Rankine.