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Forward poetry prize shortlist is all male

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Summary of story from The Guardian, 14 July, 2011

The Forward prize for poetry 2011 shortlist has been announced and it’s an all-male lineup - Sean O’Brien, David Harsent, John Burnside, Geoffrey Hill, Michael Longley and D Nurske.

But does the absence of women really matter, asks Sarah Crown in the Guardian?

After emailing the chair of judges and former poet laureate Andrew Motion, Crown recieved this response: ‘Of course it was a matter of concern for us that the shortlist for the Best Collection was all-male.

‘But equally of course the judges (three women and two men) had to choose the books they liked best as collections of poetry.

‘It’s worth pointing out, too, that the same criteria led us to choose four books by women and two by men in the Best First Collection section, and two poems by women and two by men in the Best Single Poem category.’

At this point Crown says that prize shortlists are not necessarily an area where gender balance should be actively sought. Some years there’ll be more good books by women and vice versa. The Edwin Morgan prize has an all female shortlist (see WVoN story).

However, she also points out that in the case of the Forward prize, only three women have won the prize in the past 19 years causing her to ask why men dominate prizes in poetry and literature.

The first explanation is that men are simply better. But, relying on her own subjective experience, she knows this isn’t the case.

The second explanation is that prize juries are sexist, but she doesn’t believe that either.

So Crown finally lays the blame on society, for not being gender neutral. In her view we’re still in the middle of a paradigm shift, from a patriarchal society to a gender-blind one.

A century ago, if the shortlist for a poetry prize had been all-male, no one would have thought to bat an eyelid. Paradoxically, we’ll know we’ve hit equality when the same is true again.

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