Survivor testimonies from Hillsborough disaster up for poetry award

A poetry collection featuring survivor testimonies from the Hillsborough disaster has been shortlisted for a major prize.

David Cain, 46, is up for a Forward Prize For Poetry for his first collection, Truth Street.

He “finds poetry in the verbatim testimony and witness statements” of the second Hillsborough inquests, which began in 2014.

Cain said: “Reading the daily transcripts I was repeatedly struck by the poetry of the language used by the eyewitnesses to try and describe such horrific events.

Some of the books shortlisted for The Forward Prizes For Poetry (Forward Prizes)
Some of the books shortlisted for The Forward Prizes For Poetry (Forward Prizes)

“There was a real humanity and indeed beauty in these words, and I wanted to try and rescue those fragile lines from all the legal jargon, and also the headline news verdicts.”

The Luton-born poet said of getting shortlisted for best first collection: “To be able to take the voices of ordinary people tragically thrust into the horrors of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, and then to be able to give to them a voice beyond their own, is something that is far greater than what it means to me individually. It is everything.”

The Hillsborough disaster, at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.

Stephen Sexton is also shortlisted for best first collection, with If All The World And Love Were Young.

Featuring a reconstruction of Super Mario World, it explores the video games that shaped his experience of his mother’s death.

The shortlist comes as 2018 marked the best sales on record for poetry books, with two thirds of poetry buyers under the age of 34.

In Surge, another work up for first collection, Jay Bernard traces a line from the 1981 New Cross fire to the Grenfell Tower fire.

Truth Street by David Cain (Forward Prizes For Poetry)
Truth Street by David Cain (Forward Prizes For Poetry)

And the best collection shortlist includes Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson, in which Zeus is a serial rapist whose violence against women is exposed and overlooked.

Poet Andrew McMillan, who is on the judging panel, said: “Certain poets in the past may have thought that politics was beneath art but a lot of these collections, especially from newer poets, are really getting down in the mud and wrestling with the intricacies and difficulties of our new political situation.

“Poetry remains high art but has come down from its high shelf – its boundaries have expanded.”

Broadcaster and academic Shahidha Bari, chairwoman of the jury, 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.”

Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation, the charity which runs the Forward Prizes, said: “The sharply rising sales figures of the past five years show poetry reaching audiences in ways that are the envy of other genres.”

The awards will be presented on October 20.

The shortlist

The 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)

Fiona Benson – Vertigo & Ghost

Niall Campbell – Noctuary

Ilya Kaminsky – Deaf Republic

Vidyan Ravinthiran – The Million-Petalled Flowers Of Being Here

Helen Tookey – City Of Departures

The 2019 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)

Raymond Antrobus – The Perseverance

Jay Bernard – Surge

David Cain – Truth Street

Isabel Galleymore – Significant Other

Stephen Sexton – If All The World And Love Were Young

The 2019 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)

Liz Berry – Highbury Park

Mary Jean Chan – The Window

Jonathan Edwards – Bridge

Parwana Fayyaz – Forty Names

Holly Pester – Comic Timing.

- Press Association

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