The UK’s Inaugural Women Poets’ Prize Shortlists Nine Writers

In News by Porter Anderson

Described by the program’s jurors as ‘sophisticated poets who have found their voices,’ nine writers are in contention for the first biennial Women Poets’ Prize from the UK’s Rebecca Swift Foundation.

Clockwise from upper left, shortlisted writers for the Women Poets’ Prize are Jenny Clake; Claire Collison; Alice Hiller; Holly Hopkins (image: Cesare De Giglio); Bryony Littlefair; Jemilea Wisdom-Baako; Em Strang; Nina Mingya Powles; and Anita Pati

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘This Diverse Group of Poets’
With its first trio of winners to be announced on October 31, the new, biennial Women Poets’ Prize in the UK has named a nine-person shortlist.

“Across this diverse group of poets, each one is subtle, transformative, distinctive and powerful.”Women Poets' Prize jury

As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the program was created in June by the Rebecca Swift Foundation. The prize is intended to provide not only £1,000 (US$1,296) to each of its three female-identifying winners but also “a program of support and creative professional development opportunities in collaboration with seven partner organizations: Faber and Faber, Bath Spa University, The Literary Consultancy, RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts], City Lit, Verve Festival, and the Poetry School.”

In an effort to “nurture craft and wellbeing in equal measure,” each winner will be matched with “a poetry mentor in addition to a pastoral coach,” according to the program’s media messaging.

One of the more interesting elements of the shortlist’s members is that they’re of widely differing levels of recognition in their work, from one who is working toward her first poetry publication to several who are published and acknowledged by attention from other award programs.

The 2018 Women’s Poets’ Prize Shortlist
  • Jenna Clake. Her debut poetry collection, Fortune Cookie, was awarded the Melita Hume Prize and shortlisted for a Somerset Maugham Award. A pamphlet of her prose poems, CLAKE / Interview for, is to be published by Verve Poetry Press. In 2018, Clake received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors.
  • Claire Collison. Shortlisted for prizes including the Bridport, Flambard, Poetry Business, Resurgence and Hippocrates, Collison was commissioned to write for Refugee Tales at the Aldeburgh Festival. She’s an artist in residence at the Women’s Art Library.
  • Alice Hiller. A 2017 Jerwood Arvon Mentorship winner and recipient of a commendation in the 2018 Hippocrates Prize, Hiller is an activist poet working on her first collection, Aperture, about sexual abuse in childhood.  She reviews for Poetry Review, and published The T-Shirt Book with Ebury Press.
  • Holly Hopkins. Soon Every House Will Have One won the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. She has received an Eric Gregory Award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. Hopkins manages the Forward Prizes for Poetry and organizes live poetry events.
  • Bryony Littlefair. Working for a community center in Kilburn and for the literature charity The Reader, Littlefair’s poetry has appeared in various magazines and her pamphlet Giraffe was published by Seren Books in 2017.
  • Anita Pati. A Londoner originally from the UK’s north, Pati is working on her first poetry pamphlet.
  • Nina Mingya Powles. A New Zealander now living in the UK, Powles is the author of Luminescent (2017) and Girls of the Drift (2014), and her poetry pamphlet Field Notes on a Downpour is to be published by If A Leaf Falls Press. She edits poetry for The Shanghai Literary Review and won the 2018 Jane Martin Poetry Prize.
  • Em Strang. A prison tutor and facilitator of poetry workshops, Strang’s first full collection, Bird-Woman (Shearsman, 2016), was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Best First Collection Prize and won the 2017 Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Award.
  • Jemilea Wisdom-Baako. A British-Jamaican poet, writer, facilitator, and founder of Writerz and Scribez CIC, Wisdom-Baako is a Callaloo fellow and a recipient of the London Writer’s Awards. Her work has appeared in Pittsburgh Poetry Review and The Good Journal.

Jurors for the prize’s initial round are Moniza Alvi, Fiona Sampson, and Sarah Howe.

In a prepared statement, the jury’s rationale is quoted, saying, “The standard of the entries was exceptionally high. These are sophisticated poets who have found their voices: and those voices are incredibly varied, challenging yet also often downright beautiful.

“Across this diverse group of poets, each one is subtle, transformative, distinctive and powerful. We look forward eagerly to reading more of their work.”

The Rebecca Swift Foundation honors the late co-founder of The Literary Consultancy. Swift was an editor, novelist, diarist, and poet who published a biography, Poetic Lives: Dickenson,  with Hesperus Press (2011). She served as a trustee of the Maya Centre, a charity supporting vulnerable women in Islington through psychodynamic counseling. She was an advocate for their mental health therapy programs, which focus on enabling women to heal through learning to tell their stories.

More from Publishing Perspectives on literary awards is here, and on poetry is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.