foward poetry prizes 2019 logo

At Bookmark, we pride ourselves on our ability to speak to audiences, we love poetry for the fact that it communicates so purely to so many people.

Bookmark has been sponsoring the Forward Prizes for Poetry since their inception in 1991 and we are delighted to see three exciting shortlists announced today for this year’s prizes for Best Collection, Best First Collection and Best Single Poem.

The aim of the Forwards has been to bring poetry to a wider audience by encouraging and awarding both new and established voices in poetry published in the U.K. and Ireland. Much has changed in the 27 years since the first prizes: the winner of Best First Collection was the little-known probation officer turned poet Simon Armitage. This year better-known-now Simon Armitage has just been named the latest Poet Laureate for the U.K.

One notable change in recent years is the boom in the audience for poetry, which has grown steadily as the definition of what poetry is has changed and expanded to break boundaries and redefine genres. And the collections under consideration this year have reflected this trend. As chair of the Forward judges’ Shahida Bari said, “What stood out was a playfulness and willingness to experiment with genre. Some of the work we’ve selected will look like poetry, sound like poetry, but it could also fall into the categories of other forms: there are lots of prose poems too. And we were surprised at how blurred the boundary between poetry and drama has become. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising as we have such a rich tradition of performance poetry in this country.”

Forward Poetry Prizes 2019 Tookey Benson Ravinthiran Campbell Kaminsky

And as poetry reflects life, so this year’s poems have embraced both the personal and the political. The Best Collection shortlist includes Fiona Benson’s contemporary retelling of Greek mythology with Zeus as a serial rapist; Vidyan Ravinthiran’s love sonnets tracing immigration anxiety; and Ukraine-born poet Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, which uses sign language to punctuate a love story set in a fictional military occupation where resistance takes the form of deafness.

Forward Poetry Prizes 2019 Cain Galleymore Antrobus Sexton Bernard

Among the Best First Collection shortlist is Truth Street, where David Cain finds poetry in the witness statements of the Hillsborough inquests; Jay Bernard combines documentary and song to animate the 13 young black lives lost in the 1981 New Cross fire; and Stephen Sexton writes of the video-games that shaped his experience of his mother’s death.

Find out more about the shortlisted poets and their work at

Forward Poetry Prizes 2019 Chan Berry Edwards Pester Fayyaz

And if you are in London on Sunday October 20th, you can hear the poets read their work at the prize winners’ awards ceremony at the Southbank Centre. Clients of Bookmark should contact us for complimentary tickets.