Full marks to Susannah Herbert for getting the Forward Prizes for poetry talked about and for trying out something new and, not least, for engaging personally in the to-and-fro: the Forward Foundation is clearly not a faceless bureaucracy. And congratulations to the winners. Obviously I was rooting for Dan O’Brien in the First Collection category, but he didn’t come out of that day badly: on the evening of the Forward do his partner gave birth to their first child, so the date is marked for the rest of his, his partner’s and his child’s lives.
Most of the talk about the Forward has been about the decision to have actors read the poems, and I’m finding it all a bit tedious. And sometimes annoying: to suggest that poets ‘can't survive these days without … constantly giving readings’ (quote from one of the threads) is simply wrong: there are a thousand other things poets can do to make an income. Besides which, most poetry publishers continue to publish poets who give no readings at all – because they’re dead, or they live in Ulan Bator, or they simply don’t want to.
Here’s another issue that’s surely just as worth attending to as the poets/actors debate. Over in the fiction room, they’re getting worked up about the opening up of the Man Booker prize to English-language novels by writers who don’t happen to be from the UK, the Commonwealth and Ireland: there’s worry that the Americans (whose own Pulitzers are for themselves only) will simply walk over everyone else. In the poetry room, both the Forward and the T. S. Eliot prizes have always been open to Americans. There’s an argument perhaps worth making for heading in the opposite direction to the Booker and having one of these two prizes restricted to UK/Commonwealth/Irish writers. Little Englandism? The new Goldsmiths Prize (‘to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form’) is open only to UK or Irish writers, but that’s a very fine shortlist they’ve come up with.