The shortlist for the Forward Prize for Poetry has been announced, accompanied by much tiresome doomsaying from Jeremy Paxman and the Guardian. ‘[Paxman’s] words come as official figures show a decline in poetry sales. Five years ago, in 2009, sales of poetry stood at £8.4m. By 2013, they had fallen to £7.8m, according to Nielsen BookScan’, the paper writes.
Well, yes: a 6% fall (across a recession). By contrast, Nielsen reports that the total figure of all books sold has fallen from £1.75bn (in 2009) to £1.51bn (in 2013) – or a fall of 14%. All things considered, poetry sales are holding up pretty well. As for Paxman’s suggestion of an ‘inquisition’ in which poets are ‘called to account for their poetry’, it sounds like a good idea but it would need an excellent host: someone famous for asking hard questions, without a lot on their plate at the moment, preferably with a snazzy new beard. Someone ought to ask Paxman whether he has anyone in mind.
All of this serves only to distract attention from the shortlist itself, which is really sharp this year. The books by Louise Gluck, Colette Bryce and Liz Berry haven’t been published yet (although we’re certainly looking forward to them); out of the ones we’ve read, our tipster ‘Lucky Jim’ suggests that The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller ought to be a shoo-in for Best Collection, and that Niall Campbell’s Moontide would be a nice on-the-nose bet for Best First Collection. (Having correctly predicted the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, we have form at this sort of thing.)