2015 Forward Poetry Winners

Announced Monday night, 28th September 2015:


Claudia Rankine       wins top award for best collection with:                                 Citizen: an American Lyric                     Penguin Books     £9.99

Mona Arshi      wins the prize for best first collection with      Small Hands    published by Pavilion Poetry (Liverpool Uni. Press)

Clare Harman won the prize for best single poem      ‘The Mighty Hudson’   from ‘Times Literary Supplement’

Value of the prizes are £10,000; £5,000 and £1,000 respectively.

2015 Shortlist
Best Collection:
Ciaran Carson: From Elsewhere                (Gallery Books)
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin:  The Boys of Bluehill          (Gallery Books)
Paul Muldoon: One Thousand Things Worth Knowing    (Faber & Faber)
Claudia Rankine:   Citizen: An American Lyric        (Penguin Books)
Peter Riley:  Due North                  (Shearsman)
Best First Collection
Mona Arshi:  Small Hands       (Pavilion Poetry, Liverpool University Press)
Sarah Howe:   Loop of Jade      (Chatto & Windus)
Andrew McMillan:      physical        (Cape Poetry)
Matthew Siegel:  Blood Work          (CB editions)
Karen McCarthy Woolf,:      An Aviary of Small Birds       (Carcanet)

Best Single Poem
Maura Dooley:  ‘Cleaning Jim Dine’s Heart’       (The Poetry Review)
Andrew Elliott:  ‘Doppelgänger’        (Sonofabook)
Ann Gray:   ‘My Blue Hen’                  (The Moth)
Claire Harman:  ‘The Mighty Hudson’     (”Times Literary Supplement”)
Kim Moore:  ‘In That Year’                  (Poetry News)

This year’s judges were:   

A.L.Kennedy (chair),  Emma Harding, Colette Bryce, Carrie Etter and Warsan Shire


Poetry by Jeffrey Wainwright and Ruth Padel’s 52 Ways of looking at a poem

Two books I have now lined up, should I read them both at the same time?  Or which one first?   I think its heads or tails time:

I have not checked out current availability of either.   I like Ruth Padel’s style of writing but was recommended to look at Jeffrey Wainright title by a Uni. tutor as useful  for students.   So, I had better get on with it.   More on their specifics  in later items.


The Basics:  poetry

Jeffrey Wainwrightthe basics  poetry  cover

£9.99      ppr        978 0415287647



52 Ways of looking at a poemruth padel 52 ways cover

Ruth Padel

£12.99       ppr

978 070117318 0

Chatto & Windus


Dog News! + 3 Poems j. Johnson Smith

Dog News!

There’s a new dog on the block!
She’s feisty and proud.
Slinks through alleys where she isn’t allowed.
Ignores the clock when the hands go round
passing the time of the click of the lock.

She’s hot!
Brown wavy hair like a grizzly bear
and slow-brown eyes that don’t watch
but your every move is pre-seen.

She’ll smile and nod, grin and preen
and accept your every whim.
But then, with a wink, a blink,
a hint of a sin,
– a space where she should have been.

There, like a dark angel, she is guarding the alleys,
patrolling the park, armed with only a sock!

Some Folk never learn

If I but had the music and yet the words,
Of the lark in the morning I would have told,
And of the factory maid that laid so white.
I would dance and sing ’til day is cold
Of the bidden lady and the darkly Knight.

Stay from the moor! The bleak and cold,
From the elf and the role of Black Jack Dee.
Flay fiddle and pipe to sparkle a tear
And garland around the greenwood tree
With ribbon and braid to soften the drear.

And the Morris and clog, the wicker and hood
Of Lankin and weavers, and a grey lady ghost,
Of jockeys and ponies, the bishops, some good.
‘Bout Usher and tailors and maids that have lost
Their precious and love, their uttermost.

Think of the tail, the fairy, the will-o-the-wisp,
See the pitties, the pressgang, or the whalers wish.
If you but had the music and yet the words
I would listen til the sirens curse.


The house, now gone,
was full of memories.
Now lost, it fell in a storm
of hail and light
As gods would like to smite
the sulking maid
Or the over-reaching knight.

The tumble, the dust,
filled the air with pittie.
Once settled, the ruins lay
and rested as the buddleia grew.
So Nature, proving as she slew
that random day
There was no due malevolence.

The sun, half shining,
Flicking shadows away.

Neither or

Write or wrong.
If needs be I’ll try
to keep on even keel
that harrows out the troughs
though it cuts the top off happier times.

The buds, the ears.
I see the fall and rise
and watch the growth, the spread
that swathes a field of nodding heads
though I feel the scythe of older times.

The glimpse of sea.
Images awash and now
the pull of tumbled dreams
of childhood mares and nags
that trammel o’er life’s lines.

For times or divisions
that armies and might
should break or harden
into shells. A cornucopia
of deeds of shining light
that fail betwixt, between, our lives.

En route

Standing, looking as we passed
the blur of logo flashing,
reflecting off the hardened, shadowed glass.
I turn my head to see the Nordic girl,
white faced and flaxen hair,
braided as a coronet around.
As cool as the sun on ice.
lids closed, receding from the glare.

Opposite, another beauty, black,
with dreadlock hair piled high
and subtle fusions colouring the crown.
As dark as inner hunger,
her head part forward, lids part down,
the Bible open, lost to her surround.

Reflecting on the journey
from Kings Cross to St.Pauls
I couldn’t help but wonder
at the beauty of it all.


tagged as  animals

Sentenced to Life by Clive James

A Graph Review:          70 but mostly highpoints of 75 plus

Sentenced to Life          Clive James

Picador,          Hardback.         £14.99.        978 14472 8404 8         published 9 April 2015

sentenced to life cover37 poems.

Clive James is a television writer and presenter, author of more than forty books, poetry, novels, autobiography and criticism (‘Cultural Amnesia‘ is a book I was reading!!!  but packed it away in a move and annoyingly have not re-discovered it yet).

“As often happens with poetry, the ostensible meaning and the deeper meaning might be at variance”.   Says Clive James in his Acknowledgements in ‘Sentenced to Life’.

Here is the simplicity of story telling, some vignettes, much on the trials of ill health and approaching death.  Plenty of nostalgia using a sleight of words that give not a meaning to life but an acceptance of what was and is.  Any anger, maybe placed in another’s story but even then quietly dissipated.  Throughout, Clive James admits the weight and tedium of his illness through verse with a skill that is sharp and witty. His is a mind still working at full tilt despite a tired body.  A burst of humour in a line or two or a lighter-touch poem help to release the tensipns a little.  And the landscape?  They are of fine images, concise, precise and immediately in the mind.
Frequent glimpses of Australia and regret at not treading its beaches or seeing the sun setting overhead.  Relationships and family reach into the poems, the past and the present.

Writing on death is often a poet’s forte, the elegies, the emotion, the memories in sequence or random; usually of a loved one.  Clive James, however is processing through his own death, seemingly at a stage of acceptance.  Here we have a classic line followed in awesome skill.  Did I say simplicity?  Even partway through a verse, a line, maybe just touching a word, you could be sign-posted to another thought or possibility.

Despite a concentration on ‘the blackness’, the void, I find this collection is almost purely a celebration and remembrance of life: ‘The sea, the always self-renewing sea/ The horses of the night that run so fast’.  The waves seem calm(ish) in these passages, safe in the knowledge that there is continuation, albeit not his/ours.  As in the ocean there are many undercurrents to be aware of.

You may find ‘variance’ if you change your perspective a little on further reading.  Like fine music, you discover more options on every reading.

As usual I noted poems I especially liked for one reason or another but once again I say the whole collection deserves a place, not only on my shelf but on that of every reader, writer and student of literature.
My attention was especially caught by:
Elementary Sonnet.      WinterPlums.        Transit Visa.        Japanese mMaple

Japanese Maple may well be the anthologist’s favourite.

Other poets to sample: Douglas Dunn:  Elegies

                                         Christopher Reid: Scatterings

Of Soldiers and War. Three Poems and one more.

The last poem is most famous, the others appear in a few poetry anthologies, maybe not so close together:
At The Sound Of The Drum                                                        Edith Nesbit  1858-1924

Are you going for a soldier with your curly yellow hair,
And a scarlet coat instead of the smock you used to wear?
Are you going to drive the foe as you used to drive the plough?
Are you going for a soldier now?

I am going for a soldier, and my tunic is of red
And I’m tired of woman’s chatter, and I’ll hear the drum instead;
I will break the fighting line as you broke your plighted vow,
For I’m going for a soldier now.

For a soldier, for a soldier are you sure that you will go,
To hear the drums a-beating and to hear the bugles blow?
I’ll make you sweeter music, for I’ll swear another vow–
Are you going for a soldier now?

I am going for a soldier if you’d twenty vows to make;
You must get another sweetheart, with another heart to break,
For I’m sick of lies and women and the harrow and the plough,
And I’m going for a soldier now!


A Garden, Written after the Civil Wars                         Andrew Marvell    1621-1678

See how the flowers, as at parade,
Under their colours stand displayed:
Each regiment in order grows,
That of the tulip, pink, and rose.
But when the vigilant patrol
Of stars walks round about the pole,
Their leaves, that to the stalks are curled,
Seem to their staves the ensigns furled.
Then in some flower’s beloved hut
Each bee, as sentinel, is shut,
And sleeps so too; but if once stirred,
She runs you through, nor asks the word.
O thou, that dear and happy Isle,
The garden of the world erewhile,
Thou Paradise of the four seas
Which Heaven planted us to please,
But, to exclude the world, did guard
With watery if not flaming sword;
What luckless apple did we taste
To make us mortal and thee waste!
Unhappy! shall we never more
That sweet militia restore,
When gardens only had their towers,
And all the garrisons were flowers;
When roses only arms might bear,
And men did rosy garlands wear?

The drum                                                                        John Scott of Amwell   1730-1783

I hate that drum’s discordant sound,
Parading round, and round, and round:
To thoughtless youth it pleasure yields,
And lures from cities and fields,
To sell their liberty for charms
Of tawdry lace, and glittering arms;
And when Ambition’s voice commands,
To march, and fight, and fall, in foreign lands.

I hate that drum’s discordant sound,
Parading round, and round, and round:
To me it talks of ravaged plains,
And burning towns, and ruined swains,
And mangled limbs, and dying groans,
And widows’ tears, and orphans’ moans;
And all that Misery’s hand bestows.
To fill the catalogue of human woes.


The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna                       Charles Wolfe   1791- 1823

Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note,
As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O’er the grave where our hero we buried.

We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light
And the lantern dimly burning.

No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest
With his martial cloak around him.

Few and short were the prayers we said,
And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,
And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed
And smoothed down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head,
And we far away on the billow!

Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone
And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him,–
But little he’ll reck, if they let him sleep on
In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

But half of our heavy task was done
When the clock struck the hour for retiring:
And we heard the distant and random gun
That the foe was sullenly firing.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
But left him alone with his glory.

Yesterday’s Tomorrow; A Graph Review

A Graph Review
60 with highpoints 70

YTimageYesterday’s Tomorrow

By Alun Rees.
Published by dinas, an imprint of Y Lolfa Cyf.

978 086243783 1

Published 2005,        paperback           £4.95

should still be available, maybe direct,        see: www.ylolfa.com

Alun Rees is now retired but worked as a journalist all his life.  A man of Merthyr and a founder member of the Red Poets, a group of Welsh, political, radical poets active with website, events and annual magazine.

The 38 poems for this collection were written between 1984 to 2004, some previously published and in some cases tweaked for this volume.

Consistently political and nationalistic from a red-blooded Welsh poet.  Radical Socialist member and persistent socialist, it would seem, to this very day.  The poems all burst with political history mixed with views of the hard scenery and the hard industrial and personal lives of the Welsh.  Radical in as much as angry at the Injustice of history to working class people, of people to people.  A big element is relating to Wales and the working-class but he is not blinkered and his concern frequently spreads much wider with the same energy and anger at world issues.  Of course, if you are Welsh, from Merthyr Tydfil, you  have good reason to take such a stance.  Throughout we are given images in a steadfast, straightforward storytelling mode.  Colour, force and wit thrive amongst all subjects and the various rhythms and balanced rhyme schemes make for voracious reading.

Poems of local streets and people.  The miners, to Cardiff and widening out to the world. Glimpses of prehistory, Revolution and Rorke’s Drift.  The crow finds its dark place too. The slightly gentler poems are Daughter, Ruin and Lost with the latter two moving and calmer but still true to his language and stance.  ( Ruin is ultimately a more common themes for poets but here Alun seems to be presenting, unusually, a  melancholic personal as well as political face.)

The last poem in this collection Dic Penderyn’s Farewell, is once again an indictment of English power over Wales and the last verse shows Rees’s  own position and that of his fellow travellers.

Lord, when you judge me, please recall
That I fought to ease my fellow’s plight.
I never had much, but I gave it all,
And I go alone into the night.
For me this has been a significant collection to read.  Evocative and emotional rides that bring images to a clear focus.  I am not Welsh but have visited and have always appreciated the countryside and its villages and towns, especially around the Valleys.  It all seems so, ‘Real’.  Why the shape and furl of some scenery is more evocative than others I cannot say but like the scenery of the Valleys, Alun Rees’s poetry will stand out as both pure Welsh poetry and true Socialism.  If one had a Complete Works to read and qualify there would be the worry that the almost continuous politicking nature would pall. However I also suspect, in fact expect, the actual variety and historic span of his poetry, mixed with the personal memoir and knowledge would create a most powerful document to the Welsh as a Nation and its working-class as representative of the world’s.
As always with new, favourite poets I find it hard to select a small number of examples but have to :

Valley Fighters;                   Cousin Glyn;                 Geese;             La Maja Desnuda;           The Cabbages of Maidanek;                                Daughter.
I am off to read more of Alun Rees and other Red Poets, and more as published by:  ylolfa

Tell it Like it Might Be, A Graph Review

A Graph Review,   55 with highpoints 68

Tell it Like it Might Be
By Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

Published 2008. By Smoke Stack Books. £7.95 ppr. 9780955402845

47 poems. Plus very brief notes on 6 poems

tell it covTruth, realism, provocation, neat imaging and surrealism run throughout Tell it like it Might Be.  Outline stories filled with keen observation of the possibilities of self.  Many written as if the author in situation, others rigorously imagined with a poetical view and sometimes deviously written.  Subjects covered vary from religion to war, sickness, variations on love and deception.  Questions regarding faith, in self as much as religion.  Strong imagery slipping between the story line and the insistence of nature and bouts of surrealism siding with bare description.  Not in every poem, not by repetition but often writ quite large between the lines is the question “Why are we as we are?”

I do think a few, like ‘Identity Crisis‘ and ‘Curtain Call‘ fit into well-covered themes that have been dipped into so many times by so many poets.  But why not, a good story, well told is always worth reading in any tongue.  Anyway, over time and poets the stories never really change, only some words and maybe a few facts plus the influence of layers of voices from the past.

Fool’s-errand Boys‘ and ‘Troubadours‘, the last entry and ‘Loss Adjusters’ are the three poems that stand out as having most obvious rhyme schemes.  These and the free verse narratives vary in subject and tenor with language that is clear and precise though imagery might cloud the immediate meaning and the sub-plot on initial readings.  Overall I am left with an impression of good poetry, technically well constructed, all of personal import on private or wider world subjects.  Perhaps lacking in gentler, softer language but this is well -countered by the clarity and at times simplicity of what is said.

An Essex man, now living in London, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is a mathematician ( part-retired) and poet (poetry editor for Poetry p f).   Website link for   Poetry p f .  His predilection for maths no doubt enables his spirit of enquiry and directness of language, which in turn may (often) be enveloping other meanings and possibilities.  Poems written with heart and mind.

Aviary in Dulwich Park; a brief narrative on parental worry and helplessness.

Dream Catching; an unusual and elegant poem that offers pictures and poses questions.

Tell it Like it Might Have Been; a descriptive poem, memory, nostalgia but still a lingering doubt.

1st verse from: Close Enough for Jazz.   This is an example of one stanza, simple structure, yet highly descriptive when your mind is in gear:

the music starts
with just a walking bass
and rhythm struts like melody
till melody swings in;

Above is sample of the softer aspects of this collection.  Other poems, often on events, show points of view or an attitude that are harder, especially when the events are harder, harsher.  And here the still questioning why? but with words that do not say but imply an uncomprehending, anger-tinged question.

All are thought provoking poems, clearly written and many layered.   A good counter blast in style to some of the older poets I have recently been reading.   A step behind Jo Shapcott but the poems of Michael Bartholomew-Biggs are still very acutely written.