Ahead of this year’s National Poetry Day (happening this Thursday, 2 October), the Forward Arts Foundation has awarded its annual prizes for poetry. Regarded, in terms of its ability to make writers’ reputations, as the Booker of the poetry world, the £10,000 Forward Prize for Best Collection went to Kei Miller’s The Cartographer Tries to Map A Way to Zion, in which a mapmaker ‘is gradually compelled to recognise – even to envy – a wholly different understanding of place, as he tries to map his way to the rastaman’s eternal city of Zion.’
Miller – a teacher of creative writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London – took the prize ahead of Colette Bryce (The Whole & Rain-Domed Universe), John Burnside (All One Breath), Louise Glück (Faithful and Virtuous Night) and Hugo Williams (I Knew the Bride).
The £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection went to Liz Berry’s Black Country, ahead of Fiona Benson’s Bright Travellers, Niall Campbell’s Moontide , Beatrice Garland’s The Invention of Fireworks, Kevin Powers’ Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting and Vidyan Ravinthiran’s Grun-tu-molani.
Finally, the the £1,000 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem went to Stephen Santus’ “In a Restaurant”, over Tim Nolan’s “Red Wing Correctional Facility”, Denise Riley’s “After La Rochefoucauld”, Jack Underwood’s “Thank you for your email” and Jeffrey Wainwright’s “An Empty Street”.
The prize was judged this year by Jeremy Paxman, Cerys Matthews, Helen Mort, Vahni Capildeo and the late Dannie Abse, who died on Sunday before the final presentation of the awards. Talking to The Guardian, Paxman said of Miller’s triumph: ‘Kei is doing something you don’t come across often: this is a beautifully voiced collection which struck us all with its boldness and wit. Many poets refer to multiple realities, different ways of observing the world. Kei doesn’t just refer, he articulates them.’
Matthews added: ‘The title, it’s so current, when we think about all these borders fidgeting and wriggling and changing. It questions our traditional idea of what poetry is because he has such a Jamaican voice and his love of rhythm and performance poetry is evident in his work.’