Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 Forward Prizes for Poetry: Fiona Benson, Stephen Sexton and Parwana Fayyaz.
On Sunday night at London’s Southbank Centre, the three prize-winning poets appeared, along with all the shortlisted writers, in an evening celebrating poetry through live readings and insightful commentary. Choosing a winner in each category wasn’t easy, said the chair of judges, Shahidha Bari. Understandably so, thanks to the exceptional quality and broad scope of the work. But the overall winner was poetry itself – the evening was a glorious affirmation of the rise and rise of the form.
Bookmark has been sponsoring the Forward Prizes for Poetry since their inception in 1991 – and the poetry world has changed radically in that time. The popularity of performance poetry has brought a new audience via spoken word, while Instagram has enabled stupendous reach. Sales of poetry books are up by 50 percent over the past five years and two thirds of this audience are under 34. This remarkable surge is a reflection of the refreshing diversity of both form and content.
Winner of the Best Single Poem, Parwana Fayyaz drew inspiration from Persian traditions in her poem “Forty Names,” the re-imagining of a story from her birthplace, Afghanistan. Inhabiting an entirely different landscape, Stephen Sexton – winner of the Best First Collection prize for If All the World and Love Were Young – examines his mother’s death through his childhood enthusiasm for Super Mario World. Motherhood is also one of the central themes of Vertigo & Ghost; Fiona Benson’s ambitious work, an exploration of female fear and desire, was awarded the prestigious prize for Best Collection.
Congratulations to all the shortlisted writers as well as the highly commended poets from this year’s awards; all their work can be enjoyed in the Forward Book of Poetry, the annual anthology that we put together here at Bookmark to accompany the prizes.